Bill Featherston's Guardian AngelMonday, August 10, 2009
I met Vancouver painter (he lived in Brackendale outside Squamish, B.C.) around 1980. He was a jolly friend of Mac Parry who was the editor of Vancouver Magazine. Featherston was tall, well built and with his beard and baseball cap he reminded me of Hemingway. And he drank like Hemingway. One day he arrived and asked to borrow money from Mac. He told Mac that he had spent the night at a cheap local hotel after having had lots to drink. He woke up in the hotel minus his wallet. His penchant for fun and drinking he shared with other friends of Mac. One of them was Mati Laansoo who drank like a Baltic carp (he was from Estonia). It was about this time that Featherston had a one man show at the Bau-Xi Gallery (not mentioned in Featherston’s curriculum!) where he painted Mati and himself naked and the theme of the show was his hate for art critics. I remember that one of his paintings may have been called Kill The Art Critics. Nonetheless his show was given not bad reviews by the men he attacked so boldly. I observed this happy man and I wondered how he managed to drive from Vancouver, almost every day, all the way to Brackendale (one of the most dangerous highways in Canada) without a mishap. He taught at what was then called the Emily Carr College of Art. Alcohol and the Sea to Sky Highway could have never been happy partners. It was then that I found that the only explanation for Featherston’s survival (he died, not in a traffic accident, in May of this year) could only be the intervention of a most efficient and personal guardian angel. In fact I have used Featherston’s case as my proof for their existence.
Since I can remember I had a little oval mirror the size of my hand (now) which had a brass guardian angel attached to it. It was pinned to my crib and then to all the little beds I had subsequently. The little guardian angel survived (and it hung behind my first daughter Ale’s crib) until 1969 when my Aunt Dolly visited us in Mexico City and saw the angel. She said it was her son Robin’s. She took it with her. I wondered and never asked how the little angel had come to be with me for so long. The little angel had been part of my life as much as a little almohadita (an ever so beautiful word that comes from the Arabic and means in Spanish a little pillow) which I had in my bed until I was 8. My mother told me that I was too old to cling to it and took it away. I grieved for days. Even now I cannot sleep unless I have two pillows- one for my head and one to hold. Rosemary stopped being jealous some 41 years ago. In the Philippines they call the pillow a man’s mistress. In pre-air conditioning times men (and women of shameless and questionable morals!) would sleep with a cooling pillow between their legs to ward off the sweat of legs caused by the stifling tropical climate of the Malayan islands.
Somehow I survived losing my childhood bed companions and it did not become an issue until Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. taught us at St. Edward’s High School sometime around 1958 the pyramid of life in its "upward" goal to complexity. He started with rocks, went to slime, viruses, bacteria, insects, fish, birds, reptiles, mammals and then told us that the jury was still out that asserted that only humans had souls. Brother Edwin accepted that “lower” orders might have some sort of rudimentary soul. The Catholic Church had no arguments with Darwin as long as we believed that at some point God intervened and injected a soul into some version of early man (and Eve). From man, Brother Edwin continued with his pyramid of souls. The next were the angels and he explained the different orders, Seraphin, Cherubin, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels and Angels. He also explained how man was a blend of body and soul, while angels where pure spirits with imperfect souls. Only God was the very soul of perfection. All this made sense to me then.
Now I find it much harder to accept the existence of that Supreme Being, and more so One that is concerned about life in one little planet in a universe of planets and stars. I am too mathematical to believe to the contrary. I won't fall for Pascal's argument in his famous wager. I first started having doubts when I thought to myself in what stage of my mother’s life I would find her if she were in heaven when I died. It seemed that the answer was as ludicrous as trying to find out how Santa Claus managed to navigate down narrow chimneys.
I find it much easier to believe in the existence of those luminous but imperfect spirits that are angels. Bill Featherston might just wink at me from wherever he might be. Or, he could be fluttering his feathers.