Christina Capecchi
Twenty Something
June 26, 2024 // Perspective

Find the Spark This Summer and Cling to It

Christina Capecchi
Twenty Something

Penguin Random House is beginning to market a special release coming this August: a picture-book biography of acclaimed children’s book creator Barbara Cooney.

The cover feels like a familiar Cooney scene – white church steeple in the background, purple lupines in the foreground – but then inserts Cooney herself in the middle, sketching in a rowboat, her grey hair pinned up in braids. The title, “World More Beautiful,” is a nod to “Miss Rumphius,” one of Cooney’s best-known characters, who scatters lupine seeds across the coast of Maine to fulfill her father’s instructions to make the world more beautiful.

The whole thing has soft Catholic echoes, calling to mind the Dorothy Day quote: “The world will be saved by beauty.”

Cooney was fascinated by creative work, painting it again and again. The Ox-Cart Man reaping the gifts of each season and bringing them to market. A father turning black ash trees into baskets. Children creating an elaborate town of stones and boxes in “Roxaboxen,” using black pebbles as their currency.   

My favorites are the Cooney books that not only illustrate the creative process but hint at the inspiration behind it. This is where we can glean insight into Cooney’s own artistic drive, that powerful life force that won Caldecott awards and enchanted millions of children.

In “Emma,” a 72-year-old receives a painting of her hometown and muses, “That’s not how I remember my village at all.”

Her dissatisfaction steadily mounts, finally prodding her to take action: “Every day Emma looked at the painting and frowned. And every day her frown grew a little deeper. One day she made up her mind. She went to the store and bought paints and brushes and an easel.”

Emma’s painting captures the village just as she remembers it – and it makes her smile.

In “Hattie and the Wild Waves,” the daughter of German immigrants struggles to find her way while her siblings advance their social standing. Hattie is drawn to the ocean, not to tennis parties and fancy gowns.

Year after year, Hattie’s desire to paint is pushed aside – until a trip to the opera. “One Tuesday evening, as waves of music filled the opera house, a young woman, down on the stage, sang her heart out. The time had come, she realized, for her to paint her heart out. The next day Hattie put on her coat and hat and marched down to the Art Institute.”

There is something holy and brave in that response, in making up your mind, in putting on your coat and marching to the hardware store, in deciding to finally do it – even if you don’t know how, even if you don’t feel ready.

That’s when God steps in and offers “a spark of His own surpassing wisdom,” St. John Paul II believed. We are called to share in God’s creative power, the late pope wrote, and the effort (not the outcome) makes us holy: “Through his artistic creativity, man appears more than ever in the image of God, and he accomplishes this task above all in shaping the wondrous material of his own humanity.” 

We work with what we have, the “wondrous material” of our “own humanity”: the dirt in our yard, the walls in our home, the yearnings in our heart.

Maybe this summer is your time – time to write that book, to dust off that camera, to make that quilt, to enter that rhubarb pie in the county fair. Create something that makes you smile.

Take your favorite little space and breathe life into it – hang a pennant or petunias or a swing. Tap into God’s creative power. And like Barbara Cooney, make the world more beautiful.

Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota.

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