I’ve always been fascinated with the Sistine Chapel in Rome –well, in the Vatican City to be more Catholically correct- but perhaps not for all the reasons you might assume. I have to confess –sorry, poor choice of words- I have to admit that I have little interest in the fact that it is in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the pope, nor that it takes its name from pope Sixtus IV who restored it in the late fifteenth century. I’m not really a chapel kind of person, I guess, although the idea of a quiet little room lit only by sunbeams trickling through stained glass has a certain cachet don’t you think? An expectation of a day spent in contemplation; an afternoon of civil recidivism…
Turning inward is seldom an option for a gynaecologist, however. Add the obstetrical duties, and our average day is often calibrated in decibels and pap smears. There are few sanctuaries and fewer stained glass windows –unless of course you count the accidents that spill onto the double panes that separate my office from the building just outside that now blocks my view of the ocean… Milk, juice, sticky candies –I’ve seen them come and go. In other words, one might reasonably conclude that there is no place there which I can designate as hallowed, let alone numinous. No place where I can retreat, even for a moment, into my thoughts. No place where memories dance like sunbeams through purple glass, then thicken into the task at hand.
But, one would be wrong. In these winter days of dark and cloud, when the sun is just a memory and the stores insist we must be jolly, everybody needs a chapel –or at the very least, a vestry-designate. A place where, for a nonce, the mind escapes, and remembrances of things past and present collude. I have hidden one in plain sight for years now. And where better to hide something but the ceiling over an examining table? Long ago when the world was younger, I commissioned artwork for the ceiling. I could not afford Michelangelo, but my daughter –then around eight- offered to do it for an ice cream cone. Bargain. I allowed her to choose the theme of course. Alas, she went secular. No finger creating at an eight year old Adam, but she did manage a nice touch with a berobed and bearded figure speaking to the mortals below: a doctor in scrubs announcing to the world ‘Hi. My DAD (her capitals) the DOCTOR’
My patients are delighted; they think it’s for them –a distraction while I shuffle things around- but, to tell the truth, it’s actually for me. A reminder of that time, now long ago, when I requisitioned a painting for my Sistine Chapel. And what the bearded figure is creating, is memories of my little girl. Each time someone notices it, each time someone points upwards in delight and asks me who drew it and when, and each time I answer, I inhabit, if only momentarily, the world of once-upon-a-time. A world of little girl innocence, of games and stories, and questions I could never quite answer to her satisfaction. A time of yellow sunbeams and grass so green it hurt her eyes. And trees so tall she would have to lie on her back to see the tops. And butterflies in colours that would humble stained glass and render it pale. And quiet times when, smiling in my arms, she would fall asleep exhausted.
It is my Sistine ceiling to be sure, but far more valuable. No myth this painting, no allegorical allusions to pretend-events, or intimations of mortality. Just the imaginings of a child who saw her daddy in a special light. The same light, no doubt, that now shines in my eyes when I think of her.