As a kid, I used to think that my parents grew up in a black and white world. I couldn't imagine it any other way because there were no pictures to prove otherwise. I would see pictures of my mother in the park as a child and even though I knew that the grass must have been green, I could not picture it. I assumed her memories were also all in black and white.
However, I remember seeing one color photograph and getting thrown for a second. It was the first time I was able to see my mother as a child the way I saw myself - in real life. She wasn't a girl from another era in that picture. She could have been one of my friends. Throw in some color and suddenly there is effervescence, a feeling of life. A feeling of now.
I was thinking about that when I saw the Coby Rosemore Exhibit at the Walters Art Museum in Maryland. Coby Rosemore is an 11 year old boy who has spent the last 2 1/2 years fighting a malignant brain tumor. It is far from a fair fight. His opponent is a tumor that sucker-punches him when he's down, hanging on through round after round of intense chemotherapy and proton beam radiation. And it's a black and white battle - a battle of life and death, of fight or flight. There are no shades of gray in the mix. No other choices for this 11 year old and his family except to face each day with gloves on and laces tied, fighting through each day.
But after his fourth craniotomy, Coby started painting. His mother bought him oils and canvases and he spent hours creating art at his dining room table. Chai Lifeline, an organization that supports children with life threatening illnesses and their families, coordinated with the Walters Art Museum to create the Coby Rosemore Exhibit, displaying Coby's art to the public for the first time since he picked up a brush.
What is extraordinary is that Coby, living in the grim black and white world of pediatric cancer, chooses to paint in vibrant strokes of reds and greens, yellows and blues. His paintings are not the paintings one would expect from an artist who wakes up to combat every day. He paints beauty and color. Flowers and trees and visions of nature that stand in stark contrast to the struggles of his day to day. They are in so many ways more than just paintings. Seeing these paintings is to glance into the soul of a child who refuses to accept only the black and white of his current reality and instead chooses happiness. Chooses life. Chooses color.
The paintings have titles like "The Road Not Taken" and "Thankful"- titles an 11 year old cancer patient might not typically have as their first choice. But Coby refuses to be the tortured artist. There is no Picasso "Blue Period" on his canvases. No darkness. His fight blossoms in the trees and flowers that he puts on his canvas. This tumor with all its power to put him into a world of darkness - a world of black and white - cannot kill the colors in his soul. It cannot touch what Coby can still share with the world.
Coby Rosemore will wake up tomorrow to a fight most of us cannot even fathom and he will fight it the way he sees the world - with colors, with love, with the joy that can't be transformed by the black and white world of pediatric cancer and brain tumors. If art is the soul on canvas, then Coby's soul is bright, vibrant, alive and young. It is real and now.
The Coby Rosemore Exhibit is a triumph of the spirit and a soaring view of what we are capable of achieving by not accepting the status quo. It is a reminder that no matter the fight, no matter the pain, no matter the struggle, we need to throw away any black and white false dichotomies. There are always colors to find and flowers to paint. There are trees with blossoms and dandelions to dance with. We need to embrace the colors that our difficulties try so hard to dim. We need to paint in vibrant strokes.
We need to view life like Coby.