The Art Auction

The Art Auction

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Dear Jonah,

A few weeks ago, I cried for you – first time in a long, long while. I’d come across a story that captured a sentiment I often think about. Namely, the fear that one’s lost child will be forgotten when we ourselves are gone.

I imagine that many parents whose children have become memories wonder about this. But who would blame us?

Why do we bring children into the world anyway? We delight in witnessing life that’s come from us and in watching that life grow and thrive. Wanting a child’s years to extend beyond a parent’s is natural. For those of us whose kids have died, how many want the memory of their child to outlast us? I suspect that my own motivation for helping to create a foundation in your name is wrapped up in this need to see you outlast me.

Which brings me to the story I found. I’d never read or heard it before, even though an internet search found that it’s often used in sermons. Alas, there’s no attribution so I offer it with gratitude to whomever wrote it.

It’s called “The Art Auction.”

Years ago a wealthy man shared a passion for art collecting with his devoted young son. Together they traveled around the world, adding only the finest art treasures to their collection. Priceless works by the likes of Picasso, Van Gogh, and Monet adorned the walls of the family estate. The widowed elder man looked on with satisfaction as Mark, his only child, became an experienced art collector. The son’s trained eye and sharp business mind caused his father to beam with pride as they dealt with art collectors around the world. As winter approached, war engulfed their nation, and Mark left to serve his country. After only a few short weeks, his father received a telegram: his beloved son had died saving the life of a fellow soldier. Distraught and lonely, the old man faced the upcoming holidays with anguish and sadness. The joy of the season, a season that he and his son always looked forward to, would visit his house no longer.

One morning, a knock on the door awakened the old man. As he walked to the door, the masterpieces of art on the walls only reminded him that his son was not coming home. At the door was a soldier with a large package.

“I was a friend of Mark,” the soldier said. “I was the one he rescued. May I come in for a few moments? I have something to show you.”

The two were soon deep in conversation. From the soldier the old man learned that Mark had rescued dozens of wounded soldiers before a bullet stilled his caring heart. The unfolding image of his son’s gallantry awakened a fatherly pride that eased his grief. The soldier then recounted how often Mark had spoken of his father’s love of fine art. Placing the package on the old man’s lap, the soldier told him, “I’m an artist. I want you to have this.” The old man unwrapped the package, pulling the paper away to reveal a portrait of his son. The canvas featured the young man’s face in striking detail, though the world would never consider the painting the work of a genius. Overcome with emotion, the man thanked the soldier. Once the soldier had departed, the old man set about hanging the portrait above the fireplace, pushing aside paintings by masters that had cost fortunes. Then seating himself in his chair, he spent the day gazing at the gift he had been given. In the weeks that followed, the man grew peaceful realizing that Mark lived on because of those he had touched. The soldier’s gift soon became his most prized painting, its worth to him far eclipsing the value of the pieces in his collection for which museums around the world clamored. He told his neighbors it was the greatest gift he had ever received.

The following spring, the old man became ill and passed away. The art world stirred in anticipation of the public auction of the man’s estate. He had stipulated that his collection be sold on the very day he had received his greatest gift. Art collectors from around the world gathered to bid on the spectacular paintings. Many who coveted the reputation of owning the greatest art collection in the world waited eagerly for the bidding to begin.

The auction opened with a painting not on any museum’s must-have list: the soldier’s painting of the old man’s son. “May I have an opening bid,” the auctioneer requested. The room was silent. “Who will open the bidding with $100?” he prompted. Minutes passed and still no one spoke. “Who cares about that painting?” shouted a bidder from the back of the room. “It’s just a picture of his son,” said another. More voices echoed agreement. “Forget about it. Go on to the good stuff!”

“No, we have to sell this one first,” replied the auctioneer. “Now, who will take the son?” Finally, a friend of the old man spoke. “I’d like to have the painting. I knew the boy. Will you take ten dollars for it? That’s all I have.”

“I have ten dollars,” called the auctioneer. “Will anyone go higher?” More silence. “Going once.” The auctioneer raised the gavel. “Going twice,” he said looking around for any takers. “Gone,” he said at last, letting the gavel fall.

Cheers filled the room. “Now we can get on with bidding for these treasures!” came a voice from the back of the room.

Over the microphone the auctioneer said. “Thank you for coming. The auction is now over.” Stunned disbelief quieted the room.

“What do you mean it’s over?” growled an irate bidder. “We didn’t come here for a picture of some old guy’s son! What about all of these other paintings? There are millions of dollars of art here! We demand that you explain what’s going on!”

“It’s very simple,” replied the auctioneer. “According to the will of the father, whoever takes the son … gets it all.”

I know I can’t fight time’s erosion of memory, Jonah. Not forever, anyway. But while I’m alive, I’d like to know that you are remembered, and that you are missed. I’d like to know that your brief life has made a difference, that others were glad to know you and to count you among their friends.

2004 … 14 and playful as ever!

I should be content that I was among the lucky recipients of your gifts, that I got to watch you grow, to witness the flowering of your sense of humor, and to swell with pride at the kindness in your heart. That should be enough. And I am lucky to have known you. You and your sister and brother are the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. I know that and love that. I think I’ve written before that I’m not cursed because I only got you for nineteen years; I’m blessed because I had you for nineteen years.

I’ll try to remember that. There are so many different gifts in our lives. It’s important that we be grateful for what we have — and for what we have had.

I am. Thanks, Jo. It was and remains an honor.

Love you forever,

“Gifts Given and Received” is our December 2018 Campaign. Please help us help kids build whole, healthy lives. Send your contribution to today. Thank you!

BillyThe Art Auction

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  • DonJones - December 31, 2018 reply


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