Life can be so fast. Don’t you think that a funeral, in a strange way, is an oasis in the post-modern world? The ritual has its own pace. If you decide to go, you cancel your appointments and clear some time well beyond the expected finish. You are there to honour the deceased.
Yesterday, Joe Valentino was buried in the Rye Cemetery on the Mornington Peninsula some distance from Melbourne. His son Sal, gave his eulogy. Joe’s daughter Mary read from an autobiography her father had written. He had requested that the family didn’t read this until after he passed away. Joe died on February 4 – just last week after a short battle with cancer. Despite the 90 minute drive from the CBD of Melbourne, the church was packed. ‘Why?’
Maybe part of the answer is in the title of Joe’s autobiography… A Life Well Lived. Joe emigrated from Italy to Australia in the 1950’s. He met his Lucy. Every morning, in his final months, Joe would see his bride of 47 years and say the same words, “Here is my angel”. When his kids were born, he considered these the two greatest days of his life. He quietly resolved to be the best father he could be.
Sal explained many things about his dad’s life. The stories confirmed that Joe’s was indeed, ‘a life well lived’. Joe was a hairdresser. He built up his business in the city, responded to opportunities… set up in Melbourne’s premier hotel when the chance came. Joe built up a loyal clientele over 40 years. Sal would go in and see his dad at work. ‘Regulars’ sitting in the chair would ask after Sal’s wife and kids by name and laud their latest achievements. Sal thought that sometimes his dad’s clients knew more about his own life than he did himself.
Joe retired when he turned 70 but kept working one day a week – even in the final months. The doctors would try to set a treatment appointment. Often in terrible pain, Joe would tell the staff in the Royal Melbourne Hospital…
“Sorry, that’s Wednesday… we will have to find another time, I’m cutting a client’s hair.” Sal described Joe as gentle and strong at the same time. Quiet assertion. Apparently, there was little point in the medical staff arguing. They would have to work around Joe’s commitments to his long term clients.
So why tell you this story?
Because it is reasonable to claim that Joe really was an artist. He saw no delineation, no need to create some professional gap between him and his clients. When his kids were born, he made a simple promise that helped grow two fine people because he chose to be the best dad he could be.
You don’t have to have the most original idea or do extraordinary things to contribute your art to the world. You can just do your work with passion and intent. You can make simple promises and live up to them and change a corner of the world. Six days after he died, Joe was still doing that for the hundreds of people at his funeral.
Who is an artist you know who is currently working on a life well lived?
Here’s an idea – let that person know that you are a fan of their life’s work. Let them know you’re grateful. You could even send them this post and say…
“I think you’re a lot like Joe because…