He took a handful of clay and threw it on the wheel. Dressed in his old clay-stained jeans and plaid flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, shoulders bowed and head bent over the wet clay. Around and around the wheel spun as he formed the grey mound carefully with his strong muscled hands until he was satisfied with its form. The mug was glazed earthen brown, just like me. It was short and stout, just like me. His palms formed the roundness of it and his fingers carved out the hollow that holds my steaming hot coffee or cocoa now. He fired it at high temperatures until it was done. It’s not a pretty, frilly mug. The mug is plain and simple and well suited for its purpose; just like me. He filled it with chocolate kisses and gave it to me on my birthday.
I use this mug every day. When I hold my special mug, I remember how it was made just for me and that gives me comfort. Paul put his inimitable spirit into each piece he crafted. In winter I hold the cup filled with steaming hot coffee in both hands to warm them and remember how my friend formed the mug. I remember his artistry, creativity, friendship and his generous loving heart. He said he thought of me while he formed my mug. That was nice to know. I am inspired when I use this mug; inspired by the spirit of genius that was a hallmark of his work.
He was troubled the last time I saw him. There were financial troubles and he had fallen in love with a beautiful girl, but she was already married and he kept his love secret. His creative pottery business was in a slump even though his work was extraordinary. He blamed himself and became depressed. Everyone we knew was in a slump, there was a depression going on after all. He couldn’t be comforted and continued to accept all blame for his current misfortunes. His family was no help. They felt he was the black sheep. A brother was an attorney, his sister a pediatrician, another brother was a stock broker. He was constantly encouraged to put aside his craft work and get a ‘real job’ like his siblings. The fact that he had a PhD did not impress them. A few friends like me loved and encouraged his work. His clay work is so unique and creative; so different from those of other potters. The glazes he developed brought new life and depth to colors.
His little dog was always loyal and his very best friend. A tenacious little white pug named Buddy with an engaging little overbite that ran to meet him at the front door when he returned home.
He was forever the lonely one, a dedicated introvert at all times analyzing his life, talent and success. He was separated from his family geographically, emotionally, creatively and socially. Last week when I saw him we talked about his aloneness. When I left I gave him a hug and he hugged me back. I said, “You are a good boy and a great clay artist.”
He said, “I know what you are trying to do.”
We both smiled and I left after agreeing to meet him for lunch the following week; this week. Tomorrow actually.
This morning I got a call from a mutual friend, a neighbor of his, who said, “Did you hear about Paul?”
“No, what about Paul?”
“He died suddenly this morning. Suddenly.” he said slowly and with great sorrow.
Paul did not share his deep personal concerns with any of us. He choose to keep his most dreaded personal fears to himself. We still question why he did not share them with any of us. Each of us would gladly listen and help if we could. Instead he turned off his phone, ate a handful of tranquillizers, threw down a pint of JD and shot himself in the head.
Sadly, today the news media began reporting that the depression was coming to an end. “Economic reports are very promising.” they said. “Prosperity would soon follow.”
I wonder if he had waited just a little longer, maybe things would have worked out for him. If he had just waited a little longer we’d be having lunch together tomorrow. Instead, I’ll make myself a cup of hot cocoa and think about my friend, Paul as the rain and sleet crash against my window.