Monday, May 19, 2014

Flower for Tony

Apologies ahead of time for the stream of consciousness, but that's how I roll...

I have been tied up with a bunch of things and, although Sullivan turned 5 a few weeks ago, I have yet to sit down and write out his birth story. Since we are super excited to attend the Shepard Fairey and Jasper Johns show at the Halsey on Thursday, however, some aspects were on my mind. So, here goes:

Lyndon and I attended an opening at our friend Andrea's store/gallery, the now-defunct Plum, on April 21, 2009. We spoke with Karen Ann Myers, then the director of Redux, telling her would likely miss her next show that opened exactly one month from that day. Sullivan was due May 9 and we didn't think it possible. We then went to dinner at D'Allessandro's, a Philly-style pizza joint that I adore. The next morning, I woke with what I thought was indigestion from the calzone. Not hardly. I am known to have a high tolerance for pain, but I thought I at least would know when I was in labor. Ha. Sullivan was born just hours after leaving an art opening :)

At 3 weeks, he was taken in a carrier to my beloved Drayton Hall. The same week he went on his inaugural visit to the Halsey. And, at one day shy of a month old, he went to that show at Redux after all. The beautiful and talented Karen Ann Myers was there to greet him...and seemed very pleased that we brought a baby. In a sling. To a quite loud art opening. She instantly became an artistic fairy godmother to Sullivan. I have never been particularly close to her but, especially now that she is a deputy director of the Halsey, it has been fun to follow her career and show her how much Sullivan has grown from that initial meeting.

Fast forward a few years. I am back in Charleston and still enjoy art openings. I have also found other things I love, including walking the Ravenel Bridge. It has become a great place to reflect and meditate...and just enjoy the beauty of Charleston. A few weeks ago, I noticed this:

It is certainly a beautiful lily, but I questioned the placement. Was it graffiti? Part of a project? Was it even legal? I then learned the reason behind it. And it floored me.

Karen Ann Myers came to Charleston for many reasons...the art community, the atmosphere, etc. But her partner was a fellow artist and educator here. They created a beautiful life together that many would envy. He painted an entire series of "Flowers for Karen" and lilies were her favorite. They walked the bridge at sunset, which became the subject of many of his paintings. Maybe they also saw the bridge as a place of enlightenment and peace. And one day, he jumped to his death from the very spot where Karen has painted a lily.

When I learned of all this, so many emotions were stirred. Quite simply, it is always difficult to read about anyone taking their life so suddenly. So young. So sad. What were the reasons? I may never know and it's really not my place to question or judge. I don't know Karen well, but have always felt connected to her. I hurt for her. What she must be going through just breaks my heart.

I have also been a strong supporter of mental health initiatives for as long as I can remember. My confirmation saint, Dymphna, is even the patroness of those who suffer from mental and emotional disorders. I have long fought for the stigma to be lifted...for people to take care of their mental and emotional well-being just as they would a physical ailment. For people to stop hiding their scripts and whispering when making appointments with their therapist. For people to stop judging and comparing themselves to a strange concept of "normal." Was Tony suffering? Was he afraid to seek help? Did he try to just "feel better" and "get over it?" Did people tell him he had a great life and had nothing to worry about? I may never know and, again, it's not my place to question. It just hurts to see so many people losing their lives this way. There are all sorts of campaigns to end drunk driving, gun violence, etc. Why do we view suicide if it's the person's fault? Just makes me even more passionate...a story for another day.

Lastly, learning the reasoning behind the lily made me think about my own life. The last few years have not been kind to me. I have struggled more than not. Thankfully, I have a great support system and have learned that self-care is not extravagant or indulgent. It is necessary. I have had times where I have felt extremely low, but I have developed ways of dealing with them. Looking at art. Smelling flowers. Getting outside. Walking the bridge. I am so thankful that Karen decided to honor Tony in such an amazing way. Turning something that could be so ugly and scary into a beautiful memorial for others to enjoy and reflect.

Rest in peace, Tony Csavas. And thank you, Karen, for the beautiful "Flower for Tony." May it bring peace to others so that your beloved did not die in vain.