Sunday, November 2, 2008

Color my world

A graphic-designer friend e-mailed recently to say he was sending a book by a friend whose art he admired.

"I do have some pencil-sketch skills, but color absolutely escapes me, so it's nice to know that someone got that gift," he wrote.

It wasn't until Kellie's Book: The Art of the Possible arrived that I understood what he meant by "gift."

The artistry of Kellie Greenwald is a gift in the truest sense of the word, in that it is not just a literal gift, but a spiritual one as well. It is an instrument of grace.

Kellie, whose father is a legendary (now-retired) announcer for the San Francisco Giants, was born in 1978 with Down Syndrome. Her book, which she created entirely by herself, draws the reader into her world—family, friends, trials, and triumphs.

Although she writes expressively about her feelings and experiences, the text of Kellie's Book is effectively a sideline to the stunningly vibrant drawings. Using an electric palette of oranges, purples, and reds that calls to mind early Rothko, she draws the reader into a world of broad horizons, ablaze with wonder and joy.

View a gallery of images and text from Kellie's Book.

In a world where liberal pundits darkly opine that Gov. Sarah Palin's son would be better off deadKellie's Book celebrates an utterly vibrant life—bathed in the full spectrum of light, infused with lightness of being.

Kellie makes no political statements. She doesn't have to. Just by communicating her being, she cuts through the lies of the culture of death more powerfully than the most articulate pro-life commentator. A picture really is worth a thousand words.

The book reminds me of the rhetorical answer a friend of mine, the father of several children, gave when asked why he believed the 50 million legal abortions in the United States since Roe v. Wade represented a genuine loss. Why, the questioner asked, did it matter that those babies were not allowed to see the light of day? After all, had not the world continued spinning without them?

My friend responded, "I don't know; why is being better than nonbeing?"

That is, if you have to ask wh, you are missing out on the essence of what it means to be human.

From my teenage years until I received faith at the age of 31, I suffered from cyclical suicidal depression, the result of childhood trauma. Some of the most frustrating experiences I had during that time were when I would see therapists, who were nearly always liberal New York City atheists, blasé agnostics, or fuzzy New Agers.

I would tell the therapists that I wanted to kill myself and essentially dare them to talk me out of it. They would respond by noting that there remained the possibility of my experiencing happiness if I held out. But their advice rang hollow, because they didn't believe in an afterlife, and their postmodern philosophy excluded the hope of finding ultimate truth in this life. Ultimately, they could give me no argument as to why, if living seemed unbearable, it was better to be alive than dead.

My conversion gave me the hope of heaven for myself and others, a reason to keep going during painful times. But there is something precious about life itself, in the here and now, the understanding of which is yet unfolding for me.

It's something that should have been obvious to my therapists. Even an atheist could glimpse it. However, it requires a certain commitment to truth that they, in the relativist mindset that characterizes their profession's leadership, could not uphold.

Kellie's Book, simply and profoundly, provides a powerful argument as to why being is truly better than nonbeing. It is an argument I will contemplate in hope that, given time and thought, it will help me better articulate to others why life is never a "punishment," but is always a precious gift from God.

Thankfully, even those who have not seen Kellie's Book have gained a similar message through the wordless witness of another individual with Down Syndrome—Trig Palin. Father Thomas Berg expresses it beautifully:
Trig will be an advocate for all of us who -- like himself -- suffer from life's mishaps in ways that impact our entire being, rendering us broken in many ways, and highly imperfect as we labor to make the long trek toward that degree of perfection we can achieve in this life.

Trig is already forcing us to look at our humanity square in the eye, helping us to recognize -- if we are honest -- that in a very profound sense, none of us is "better" than he is, none of us more (or less) "desirable" than he is, that his, your or my worth as human beings is not predicated on someone else's calculation of his, your or my "quality of life."

RELATED: Kellie's parents write in a newspaper article, "Kellie’s progress should not be viewed as an isolated case. Instead, she should serve as an example of, as her book suggests, what is possible for those with disabilities if given the love, encouragement and opportunity to reach their potential. It’s no crime if one fails to reach that potential. The crime is in not providing the opportunity."

Also, read the reader response to the Greenwalds' article and the drawings of Kellie's the newspaper published, which is very touching.

And if you recognize the title of this post, you'll enjoy this clip of Petula Clark singing her hit in 1968—backed (adorably) by a children's orchestra, appropriately enough.