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DESTINATIONS: Hey Joe, where are you going with that brush in your hand?

It’s been a few months since I took the Sign Painting and Digital Enhancement of Culture program at Aurora College’s Fort Simpson Community Learning Centre from August to December. I still feel I have had my fill of acrylic paint Maestro Purcell.

I’ve taken multiple training courses that began with Grande Prairie Regional College’s Hospitality and Tourism Management, for personal growth. Since then I’ve augmented my general high school diploma with the Level 2, Category B, apprenticeship test preparation program, mathematics and physics, including occupational training in safety and emergency preparedness. But none of them had the influence and effect that your class had on me, teacher.

Your charming tales of an early painting career and fascination reflected many other approaches by artists such as Norval Morrisseau, and in your case, Joe, you parlayed the obsession into acquiring your teacher’s licence in art. Of course, you had to endure the dirty hippy era and the attendant capers you and your buddies got into elicited many moments of levity as you related these occurrences.

This led to our inter-generational jabs at each other. My openness to painting was tempered with the photography and graphic design niches in my resume and then finessed with my childhood love of cartoons. Bloom County, for example, and Calvin and Hobbes provided me the rarefied air of dry political (and collegiate) satire and childish imagination, the latter of which I am still partial to.

Hand-painting over screens on pre-painted poster backgrounds was a little bit of a throwback to the earlier days of graphic design – which reminded me of the personal looks of the posters and handbills of the last century. I learned a lot about colour mixing, acrylic body, such as its ability to be sculpted on to paper, lending itself to cut compositions. I did not have more talent than my peers, but I did slay on productivity. I am quite sure that the 10 gallons plus of acrylic I laid down was indeed a learning experience, but that came with cramped and painful claws, and now, a lot of spatters of paint that still linger on some of my favourite T-shirts and jeans.

I learned much more than technique, vision and execution, Joe. Close to my heart was your story of the deal you made with the Almighty, that is to quit smoking dope if your loved one was spared from the jaws of death. I admired that once your son pulled through, you held up your end of the bargain, even though you made it quite clear that the weed was a recreational must-have of the times. I was reminded of that lesson recently in some light reading.

The Fourth Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous is a much more modern take on the first edition (which I’ve also read), but it still retains its commonsense and humane angle on the demon drink. Those alcoholics who are successful all have one thing in common if they quit, and remain dry, as individuals who have surrendered to Yahweh.

Which brings me to this conclusion: Alcoholism is a condition that arises as a result of not living in a spiritual context.

That is, the booze becomes the crutch to hobble on in ignorance instead of accepting, or living by, a spiritual dimension. In my estimation, alcoholics nurture their need for transcendence with booze, rather than practicing the faith, or seeking meaning and fellowship in worship, or studying the Word.

Of course, the first barrier to a healthy lifestyle that must be broken is pride, as the individual has usually put themselves above religion; thinking they can control their drinking, the drunk has elevated himself above the Creator.

This is naturally a part of the boozy syndrome that borders on agnosticism, apathy and perhaps even antagonism against organized religions. In short, as a result of ignoring the sacred, the drunk’s obsession with alcohol then becomes profane, over time. Even losing everything to alcohol is not enough to break some alcoholics, but that is the lesson – the booze becomes meaning, instead of actual wholesome living. AA seeks to rectify this by stressing that sobriety does not happen on its own. It requires heavenly assistance, and this is a cornerstone of their program by which I mean, the alcoholic ego must be replaced with intent self-reflection, emotional dynamic and letting go of that destructive aspect of ego.

In any case, Joe, your intense mysticism and dialogue with the great mystery complemented your matter-of-fact acceptance of the divine. That inspired me because your humility in the face of the magnificent outcome in your son’s survival was a great example of being in touch with the unknown.

No man is an island, it is said, but I have lived that life, severing inward and outward connectivity, repulsed by physical contact, and ensconcing myself in a fortress of intellect, which basically was just a long form of convoluted self-justification. Your personal testament set in motion a ripple on the ocean surrounding my conflicted island. The ripple became a wave, which grew into a maelstrom, sending torrents of rain upon me, rumbling thunder against my selfishness and forked lightning to rock my shores.

I know you are locked in yet another life and death struggle of your own, Joe, and this is what motivates me to compose this missive. I would like to thank you for your art instruction, and for your sensitive honesty, for it is clear that love has found its refuge in your heart, and that is the greatest lesson.

Also, your humility took me down a couple of notches, for my obstinacy is often its own shortcoming, when it comes to happy trails. May the road rise to meet you, my friend.