Room 134


Lessons from Room 134

Dec 8, 2019

I couldn’t say no to her. She stood beside me, waiting for my response. I meant to say no, but instead, heard the words, ‘Sure. I’ll be right there,’ come from my own mouth.

I had come to the gallery alone, in a funk, where I’d determined to stay.

But now, this tiny lady stood beside me, asking me to come listen to a talk about a painting down the hall.  

“There’s going to be a talk in five minutes, a talk about a very important painting.  In Room 134, you should come. The talk only lasts for five minutes.”

She was older, probably in her eighties. She wore a long, animal print skirt that made her look even more diminutive, topped with a blazer that let you know she was serious. Her eyelids were brushed with bright green eyeshadow and her lips were painted. Her blond, dyed hair didn’t hide her age, but somehow worked for her. I wanted to be her when I grew up.

She walked away from me, full of business, repeating the same story to the patrons behind me. I found myself smiling, despite my efforts to remain cranky.

The Volunteer tag around her neck made me love her.  I hoped to have half her verve when I was her age.

She managed to recruit one other lady, a younger girl; several minutes later, another museum volunteer joined. 

Our host began her talk about the painting, asking questions and pointing out the colors and patterns. The young student kept looking to me when our host asked questions, betraying a little panic in her eyes. She had told us how she’d recently moved from China to attend school, and was not yet confident in English. I found myself jumping in with answers that I was far less sure about than I revealed.

Soon, we were all involved in a conversation about the colours, the lines, and the themes of the painting. Although I’d always loved wandering through galleries, I was a mere spectator,  never an art student. As I tossed out answers, I surprised myself with my instincts about what I was seeing.  I was not too far off track. Maybe I was less an imposter in a gallery than I’d always believed myself to be.

I was convinced our host had been an art teacher in her younger years. She had that way of organizing us into a discussion and commanding our attention. I’ll bet she’d been someone’s favourite teacher once - one of those who is still talked about by former students, whose futures she helped shape.

The five minute talk extended into fifteen, but none of us minded, embracing instead the brief respite from routine to have a random interaction with strangers.  I walked out of the gallery, lifted from my bad mood, reminded of the importance of being open to what others have to offer.