"Darrin- Free by the Shore"
My dear friend Rachel Belcher approached me about painting this older photograph of her cousin to honor the 17 years of life he lived until February of this past winter. I was honored to be considered, but I also knew it was extremely close to her heart. When I saw the photograph she was thinking of, my heart broke over the joy and freedom I saw in Darrin's face. My goal in creating this piece was to bring vitality to this beautiful moment in Darrin's history.
I asked Rachel to help describe her cousin and this moment. This is what she wrote:
Darrin Walter Jenkins spent some part of every summer with his Aunt Gina, Uncle Paul, and cousins Rachel, Laura, and Sarah. Each summer was slightly different, but the staples were the boat and the beach. Darrin loved the ocean. He always asked to go. There are at least three photos of him like this, at different ages, with his arms flung wide open at the beach catching the sun and the wind. This is how his family remembers him -- sweet, joyful, loving, free.
Darrin passed away on February 25, 2014. He left a hole in the lives of everyone who loved him. This piece was commissioned to capture the moment in one of the Belcher's favorite photographs of Darrin.
All of us have a place we were the most ourselves. It is typically a moment in our childhood.
For me it was swinging on our backyard swing set in Tampa. I had written out a song with crayon on construction paper about trees and clouds and birds and was singing my heart out about it all as I swung back and forth. I wasn't trying to sound good for an audience, I was singing joyfully about the beauty I saw in nature around me and I felt free to do so. For my husband, it was a moment when his family lived in a farmhouse in Highlands, Missouri. He created a baseball game with a tree where he would pitch to this tree and depending on where the ball would bounce off, he would score the two teams. He had a little system to play baseball with a tree and he loved it and felt free to do so.
This thing I am trying to describe is a point of freedom and vivid confidence that who we are is utterly and completely enough. A moment that we are living out of a genuine self without trying to be something different, or feeling shame that who we are is not impressive, not worthy, not good. Those moments are precious.
Sadly, life is broken and slowly that beautiful and free version of us gets chipped at, threatened and falls under an onslaught of battles and wounds against it. Our free selves get attacked, and we all cope with that reality differently. Darrin felt the weight of that war so intensely, it was difficult to recover the perspective of himself that was a free and hopeful boy with hands outstretched on a beach.
And that is a tragedy.
But the need to fight for who he truly was is the thrust behind this painting. Those who loved him never stopped seeing their sweet Darrin as perfectly and completely enough, just as he was..
This painting represents the true Darrin and it urges us all to remember no matter how life has tried to squish our existence away, we must fight to recall our true selves, and settle for nothing less than a life lived out of THAT person. Free and hopeful and our arms wide in full abandon. Perfectly enough.
What is your moment of childhood freedom? Let's learn how to recover our freest selves.
It is worth the fight.