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Change In Color: Rosh Hashanah Message

September 19, 2012

“Father’s Memory” by Donald Kunstadt, acrylic on canvas

Transformation is the eternal theme for this evening.  The inevitability of transformation in our lives is clear, however much we wish to recognize it or not.

 Just one month ago Patti and I did some personal transformation in our home.  Our middle child Ethan has moved out of his room – entirely out of his room, permanently.  That meant that I rented a U-Haul trailer, which I attached to my old truck – I’ve been here long enough to get that Alabama spirit – and took all his possessions from his bed to his dresser to his new apartment in Birmingham, Alabama.  Patti and I had an empty room and we needed to transform it.

 Patti you probably know is a trained graphic artist.  You might know among my many hobbies I also paint.  I took it up about five years ago, and stopped about three years ago.  Patti and I decided to transform what had been Ethan’s room into an art room.  She has her table to work on and I have my easel to work on.  We both face away from each other when we work.  It prevents competition which there really can be none because she knows what she’s doing.

 We transformed the room.  You would never know it’d been a bedroom.  This evening I want to teach you a lesson about personal transformation, a simple lesson but one central to this holy night.

 I’m going to teach you the lesson by teaching you a little bit about art.  If any of you ever tried to paint you might know it’s on the one hand one of the most enjoyable, pleasurable and creative endeavors a person can involve him or herself in.  On the other hand it can also be extremely frustrating.  Nothing is more frustrating when you want a picture to look a certain way, but it doesn’t.  I find myself lost in time when I’m working upon a picture.  The clock is behind my back.  Sometimes I can work for hours and feel it was only minutes.  But sometimes the frustration builds, and I’m convinced I have to change something to get it right.  Life is a lot like that.  Sometimes the frustration builds and we don’t do what we need to do to get things right.  This holy night is one such opportunity, to change all that.

 So where’s the simple art lesson?  Here it is.  When something is not right in the picture there are often three solutions.  They are three precise, simple solutions.  Sometimes the color is just not right.  The color might be too hot when it should be cold, or too cool when should be warmer.  A hot yellow should really be a cool blue, or an ice cold purple should really be a warmer orange.  But this can all be changed.

 Sometimes something is so off the only way can be fixed is with an amazing product called gesso.  I learned about it in my first art lesson.  If something is not right you can take this amazing product and cover it over and you can start all over again.  It’s as though it’s a white clean canvas once more.  Everything is covered over completely.  You can’t see through it at all for it is completely opaque.  You have a blank slate before you once more, all open to your creativity.

 And there’s a third thing you can do to fix a picture.  It’s the most drastic but sometimes the very most liberating.  You see this can?  Sometimes nothing feels better than to take that piece of art and throw it in the dumpster.  You don’t want to cover it with gesso.  You don’t want to change the warmth of the coolness of the color.  You simply want to throw it away and start all over again with the cleanest of slates, a brand-new canvas.

 Now you know you didn’t come to Temple tonight for art appreciation 101.  You came here because it’s a tradition, because we are a Temple family, but you also know the theme is a new year, and a fresh new beginning for your life.

 So I’m going to ask you tonight when have you been cold to another human being like those cold colors I was talking about when you should’ve been warm?  When did your spouse try to talk with you and you were too busy to listen?  When did your child call you needing you at that moment for something critical in their life, but maybe not so important to yours, and you didn’t give your full attention or maybe you were too busy at work and never even got back to them?  When did someone reach out to you asking you to give your hard-earned money or time for a needy cause, and you were cold and said you didn’t have time for you said you didn’t have the money and you knew you really did?

 And what if you have been too hot tempered, like those hot colors I taught you about?  When did you burst out in anger when you could have kept your thoughts to yourself, and not hurt perhaps deeply the one you snipped at in anger?  You flew off the handle and you let those words out, words which will never be forgotten?

 At times changing color is not enough, and we simply need to whitewash things over and start with a clean canvas.  Remember that remarkable product I told you about called gesso – it works every time.  What is it that you need to cover over in your life right now, cover over and make it white as snow?  Only you know what it is.

 It reminds me of the story of the child who came home from school and showed his report card.  The parent looked at it and sees one A, to B’s, a C in a D.  And what does the parent say?  “How come you got a D?”  And when the parent says that the child’s face falls, deeply hurt the very core.  Now the parent realizes he should’ve said: I’m proud you got an A, and I’m pleased you got to B’s and C, and then asked him why he got the D.  But what you did last year is over.  The words you said cannot be taken back no matter how much you’d like to.  But this year you can do something entirely new when you are in the same situation or similar one.  You can cover over and make white as snow that type of hurtful talk, and do a much better job in this new year.

 Finally remember what I taught you about the most liberating thing you can do with bad art.  If something is really bad you have to just let it go, and move on to something new.  On this holy night you too can liberate yourself, from the hurt, the pain, from the jealousy, to start all over again.  To whatever extent possible the Jewish tradition tells us we are to apologize and to make amends for what we have done.  To whatever extent possible we are to undo what we’ve done wrong, the harm that we have done, the foolish things we had said, and start over with a clean canvas in this New Year.

 I ask you remember this message and take it home with you.  What are the colors of your life you’re going to change in this New Year?  What are the things you did that you need to whitewash over in the New Year so you can truly start fresh as though from the very beginning?  Finally some things must simply be thrown away.  Can you simply let go of the pain and suffering and the hard feelings you have experienced.  I promise you will be a happier human being when you do.

 May this year be a good year and a blessed year for you and your family and your friends.  May it be a year of love and understanding a year of peace and blessing.  To this may we all say Amen.

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  1. Nancy Hill permalink

    What a heart-warming piece, Donald!

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