Empty picture frame was no April Fool's joke

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 25, 2002

"Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight."
—Bruce Cockburn

Last week's column really wasn't a mistimed April Fool's prank.

In response to descriptions of four images from my "portfolio" that greet me whenever I amble into Cochrane's Paintbox Artist Supplies, several of you wrote to congratulate me on taking up painting. Others of you even went into Paintbox to view my exhibition.

The fact is, all you'll find of my artwork at Paintbox is an empty picture frame on the far wall – a "magic frame," as I said, that "embraces no other pictures than the ones already in your heart as you enter the door."

By hanging that empty frame on the wall, shop-owners Marie and Marla have unwittingly given me – and all who enter – an invitation to visualize meaningful memories and permission to dream beautiful dreams.

Actually, some people are so good at creative visualization, they don't even need a picture frame as a catalyst. This was made clear to me soon after last week's column went to press.

The words of a certain song kept coming back to me, but not completely. Bumping into coffee companions Bob Bartlett and Steve Gobby at Coffee Traders, I asked if they could help me finish the line, "And I think to myself, what a wonderful . . ."

They were quite familiar with the lyrics to Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong's hit, What a Wonderful World. And they launched me on a weeklong multimedia journey of discovery into the power of music as a "frame" for visualization and healing.

It was in 1966 that Satchmo recorded the jazz piece that quickly soared to the top of the hit parade in the U.K. It did not make the Top 40 in North America, however, till it appeared in the 1987 film Good Morning, Vietnam, starring Robin Williams.

As you may recall, in that film Williams plays a zany, irreverent deejay brought in by the U.S. military as a Saigon-based morning radio host to boost troop morale. He soon encounters the bitter darkness of war and, in an impetuous moment of speaking the truth on air, loses his job. Since no one can replace his style of humor, however, he is asked to return.

At first he declines. But while caught in a traffic jam of trucks loaded with scared GIs heading to the front, he sees how his sparkle and wit make the men laugh. He returns to the air and dedicates his first number "to a couple of guys on the road to Nha Trang."

Then, in stark irony, we are bombarded with images of war superimposed over Satchmo's words of peace.

To "trees of green, red roses, too," troops depart for the front in trucks and choppers. To "skies of blue and clouds of white," a mother and child watch, stunned, as their village is napalmed. "Colors of the rainbow"? An impromptu execution by bullet-to-the-head.

Then comes the haunting line, "We see friends shaking hands saying 'How do you do?' They're really saying, 'I love you.'" And the image? A placard-waving throng of civilians marching down a Saigon avenue, confronted by dozens of armed, uniformed men who beat an unarmed woman and cameraman to the ground, bleeding and pleading.

What a wonderful world?

Yet, amidst the horror, Robin Williams and Louis Armstrong redeem the moment with a melodic frame for visions of hope.

When I mentioned the impact of Satchmo's song on me to Cochrane singer/songwriter Kristoph Franz Dobrowolski the other day, he quoted from Bruce Cockburn's Lovers in a Dangerous Time:

"Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight."

I guess, for me, that is really what that empty picture frame at Paintbox is all about.

Each of us is given our own magnificent picture frame – the permission "to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight." The frame is an invitation to visualize what a wonderful world this can be if we fill our thoughts, words and deeds with truth, justice, purity, graciousness and loveliness.

This picture frame is a gift from God. We dare not discard it.

Because it is sacred.

© 2002 Warren Harbeck

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