“When am I gonna see my painting?” I can still hear his voice in my ear. I told him about the painting in October and he asked about seeing it almost every week I saw him. It was our running joke. He was excited to see it, but because I had to ship it to New Hampshire by December for my first residency of my MFA program, I wasn’t able to show it to him before I left. I guess I could have shown him a picture of it… But I wanted to show him the real thing, and when I did, I wanted to give it to him–to keep. And so I waited. The painting was well-received when I exhibited it at my new school, but it didn’t arrive back in the mail until a couple weeks ago—when Tom’s health started to make a turn for the worse. By last Sunday, we heard he was back in the hospital undergoing dialysis, and things sounded serious. The next day, we brought the painting to the hospital, and Tom finally got to see his painting.
“I kind of look like Sean Connery.” He said with a smile when he saw the painting. I laughed, but it was hard to see him in such a weakened condition in his hospital bed. “It really captures my life right now… Thank you.” He had said slowly with warmth in his eyes and all sincerity. We leaned the painting against a wall on top of the dresser in his room so that he could see it from the hospital bed. Then we chatted for a bit, said a prayer, and left.
That was the last time I spoke to Tom Scott. He passed away in that very room yesterday morning.
I keep replaying that hospital visit in my head… I can’t help but wonder what I would have told him if I would have known he was going to be passing on. There are so many things I would have wanted to say. I know a lot of people feel this way. Tom had become a close friend of TJ and I over the years. He volunteered a lot of his time ministering and serving our youth group. In fact, we were all in Branson together for the Teen Leadership Conference just the other weekend. We knew he was going through a rough patch in his battle, but no one expected this to happen so suddenly.
As I look at this painting now, I can’t help but imagine what words he seems to speak through the painting… “Yes, I’m up against this wall. It’s scary. But it will be ok.” If I know anything about Tom, I know that he was a man of faith. He was a man who looked beyond the temporary walls of these earthly trappings and had assurance of things eternal—the things unseen.
That is the essence of what I was aiming to capture a few months ago when I asked Tom to lean his head against the atrium wall at church so I could take some pictures. I took several photos, but when I saw this particular pose and expression, I knew it was the one to use. There was something haunting and convicting about that stare. It’s as if he had accepted what he was up against but was also looking back at us to remind his viewers that we share the same plight. We are all fated to confront the humbling experience of death at some point. Upon reflection, how are we affected by that idea? Or more generally, how do we respond when we face physical obstacles? This painting reminds us to ask—where is our hope?
As I reflect on the passing of Tom and think about those who are much more affected by the loss of his earthly presence, I take refuge in 1 Cor. 15:54 which declares, “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’” Certainly, the resurrection of Christ is a convicting reminder that the earthly walls we face ultimately have no sting.
After reading that passage, I almost wish to paint Tom again, as he is now. Without the wall. : )