The Living Art of Sophie

Sophie’s first breath took my breath away.

As she entered this bright and big world just a few miles west of Kauffman Stadium, Sophie took a deep breath of amniotic fluid. I cut the umbilical cord at the doctor’s instruction and he immediately rushed her to an emergency crew where she was placed on some kind of portable, miracle cart of lights and heaters. The scrubs-clad crew surrounded her, talking in hushed tones, and I didn’t know what was happening. I held Jamie’s hand and didn’t know what to do.

Sometimes in the movies, when everything is chaotic and crazy, the cameras spin around and all sounds cease except for the breathing or heartbeat of the main character. This is exactly what it was like on Sophie’s birthday.  

Minutes later, the amazing crew returned a big-eyed, cheeky, and cleaned-off Sophie to us. She made no noises and seemed to be closely watching, observing this new place. Wrapped tightly in a blanket, Sophie wore the blue and pink striped hat common at hospitals. I wore a light blue t-shirt that said The Message, referencing the Bible translation of Eugene Peterson. That t-shirt is one of 25 currently being transformed into a quilt.  

Sophie was born on a day the Kansas City Chiefs were playing and I told her about a few of the players and we watched a few snaps together. We were both asleep when the game ended, waking up to discover the Chiefs had lost. I could not have cared less about that defeat.

* * * * *

On October 17, 1980, the first World Series game was played in Kansas City, with the Royals facing the Philadelphia Phillies of Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, and Pete Rose. In the bottom of the tenth inning, Willie Aikens hit a line drive over the center fielder’s head driving in Willie Wilson to win the game. My parents were at the game. Sophie’s birth date has historic connections to Royals baseball.

“Mmm. That’s nice,” she says.

* * * * *

Sophie spent almost a year of her life as a puppy. On multiple occasions, she was overheard saying “Woof” in her sleep. It got to the point where grandparents were concerned. Jamie and I had to ban puppies from the dinner table and going to church.

* * * * *

I am so grateful for the Harry Potter series because it has helped me better understand and know Sophie. Sophie is the truest Hufflepuff I’ve ever seen.

Hufflepuffs are the most hospitable of people. They deeply value hard work, justice, and loyalty. The head of the house is the professor of herbology, which makes sense as Sophie has spent the summer trying to nurture multiple plants and herbs on our back deck, much to the delight of our rabbits, possums, and squirrels. She took a trip to Costa Rica this past summer, learning about the rain forest and sustainable ways of life. She took exactly one selfie the entire time she was gone and that only because her mother requested to see her face. Sophie has already had her artwork published and won multiple awards — from pumpkin-decorating contests to gourd art — but she remains quite modest of her accomplishments.

“It’s not that big a deal, really.”

Sophie lives in her own imagination, in a peaceful world filled with raw beauty and in relationships where Truth and Life and Hope and Justice are frequent conversational topics. In this world, all animals can be trusted. In this world, there is never a need to hurry.

* * * * *

Taken by Ami Henry, this is one of my favorite pictures of Sophie.

Sophie feels with every fiber of her being. From the six babies she toted around everywhere as a toddler — one named Texas — to her family of pine cones, she has understood the importance of community and friendship her entire life. She has strong emotional connections to gifts from friends and family.

For a couple years, Sophie had two parakeets — Buckbeak and Luna. Much like a Disney princess, she wanted to hold them, train them, befriend them. Buckbeak bit her pretty hard one day, hard enough to bring tears. She sobbed in her room and asked me, “How can I show them I just want to be their friend?”

Sophie asks questions I can’t answer, because the answers aren’t simple baseball statistics or straightforward facts. She’ll take a breath and take her time carefully forming her phrases and words, then wait her turn to speak because she despises being interrupted.

She’ll come home from school, jump on the trampoline, then grab a snack and hide in her room for a couple of hours, slowly recharging her introvert battery. At bedtime, she’ll settle into the covers, and just think.

“Dad, why…?”

Questions about school hours going against human biology.

Questions about the inefficacy of standardized tests or homework or computers in school.

Questions about unjust business practices or ridiculous politics or economic inequalities.

The heart behind every question is the desire for real peace, the hope that we can take better care of this irreplaceable planet, and a place for all people to truly call home.

I rarely ever have answers that aren’t dripping with sarcasm and attempts at humor.

“Dad, I’m being serious…”

I hug her and kiss her forehead and say prayers, trusting that God can guide and guard her heart.

* * * * *

Sophie started creating art by sitting in on her sister’s art lessons. She gripped pencils and crayons and markers with her whole fist. Steve, the beyond-patient art teacher, welcomed Sophie into the lessons and created space at our small, round kitchen table.

“She is, by far, the best artist I’ve ever seen who holds a pencil like that,” he once said.

As a second grader, for an art class at school, Sophie drew a picture of a cup of water. The level of the water inside the cup was not represented by a straight line, as I would have drawn. The water level was circular, which surprised me. But what really caught my eye was she drew the refraction of items seen through the glass in the background.

I showed the drawing to a friend of mine.

“You need to do whatever you can to encourage her to be an artist for the rest of her life.”

Wherever she goes, Sophie has art supplies with her. Sometimes it’s ink and a pen, sometimes watercolors, sometimes acrylics. She walks through the world quietly in wide-eyed wonder, observing and thinking, seeing the way colors and shapes interplay.

She was commissioned to create her first car art this summer. It was a large, acrylic painting of an all-black Mustang GT. I watched the process closely and was confused as she painted layers of whites and blues and grays and very little black. One day, when she was gone, I sat and compared the photo she was using as a model to her art in progress. At first, I saw a black car and a not-black painting. And then I noticed the reflections of the sky and grass and the concrete driveway in the mirror-like finish. I caught a small glimpse of what Sophie sees naturally and I was amazed.

* * * * *

What good is art in this world?

In these days of chaotic and crazy, where too few people pretend to be puppies or befriend Hufflepuffs and (maybe) place too much emphasis on the wins and losses of the Royals and Chiefs, art makes us stop and take a breath.

Sophie has been taking my breath away her whole life.

Happy birthday, Sophie.