Just last week I completed my training as a volunteer at Mary Washington Hospice. I sat in on a writing group that is available to those who are grieving. Little did I know that this week one of the writing topics for the group would become so personal.
It’s not so much an empty chair, as an empty spot in the circle. It’s not really even a circle anymore, because there is a hole where she used to sit.
Now I truly understand what they mean by negative space in art. Wikipedia defines it as, “the space around and between the subject(s) of an image. Negative space may be most evident when the space around a subject, and not the subject itself, forms an interesting or artistically relevant shape, and such space is occasionally used to artistic effect as the "real" subject of an image.”
In this case, that hole in the circle, that negative space truly is the “real” subject of the image in my mind. It is an image of a school room lit by sunlight with a carpet at one end for sitting upon when it’s time to gather and share, or for sitting upon when it’s time to work. It is an image of a safe space where children are the focus and where teachers are friends and guides, partners in learning. It is an image that includes my young daughter’s face either intense with concentration or filled with the excitement of having learned something new that she wants to show me. It is an image of a peaceful place of learning. Before this week, in that image there was a dedicated woman, a dedicated teacher offering the gift of a lifetime of joy in learning. The unexpected and tragic loss of her life is what now creates the negative space in the image of that circle in my mind.
Due to the sadness I feel, I’m tempted to label the space negative in the sense that negative is bad. However, I can’t label the space that way due to the woman that used to sit there. What she left behind is much too positive for that. She was gentle and giving, patient and kind. In truth that space where she used to sit isn’t empty at all. It is filled with the love she gave, it is filled with the lessons she taught, it is filled with the laughter of children, the excitement of learning to read, the joy of friendship. That space is positive because it still radiates the love she offered to so many children, it still radiates the joy of learning that she instilled. The circle is complete after all, despite the ache I feel.
For Miss Sibylle
July 3, 2013