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Art and Calm

There was something about Joseph’s sharing about the lessons from his life path that gave inspiration and hope to those on the journey of self-discovery and healing. Joseph, a deeply spiritual dreadlocked man in his fifties, had supported himself as an artist since his early teens. Carving was a life long vocation and a calling for Joseph. I’d never met anyone so clear about who they were, what they were meant to do and following that path their entire life. I’d sit and listen to the night sounds while watching him carve, evoking and giving life to images hidden in the wood. People would stop by to purchase or commission a piece of art or the beautiful hand crafted leather sandals and bags Joseph made as a way of supplementing his income.

Lost and Found

I’d come to Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) to interview and photograph the work of undiscovered and indigenous artists for a book. I’d never done anything like this before, with my only plan being to rent a car and go seek artists out by word of mouth. That was how I’d found my way to Grand Riviere, a remote village on Trinidad’s north coast. Little more than 300 people lived in this place accessible only by a single road that was more potholes than paved. Walking down to the beach one afternoon, I’d wandered into the water and stood at the point where the Grand Riviere River met the Caribbean Sea. A sense of belonging had drawn me back to the place of my birth, almost forty years after immigrating as a child to the U.S. As I bathed, the pull of the currents washed away the doubts about my purpose and this trip. I imagined each handful of water softening and opening me to the calling of my heart. I stood neither bracing nor overpowered by the water’s constant shifting, aware of myself as another force at this confluence, feeling a grounded stillness, just as the depths of the sea had its own.


Four years earlier I’d been an executive at one of the largest foundations in the world, administering millions in funding. I earned a six-figure income, but felt constrained by the bureaucracy that enveloped more and more of my life. On a daily basis I supported community organizations in giving voice to their purpose and passion, and operating from their fullest potential. Yet I felt depleted and resigned, unable to do the same for myself. Fear and perceived security held me fast, curbing my imagination of other possibilities.

Then it happened; the decision was made for me. My entire office was laid off. Many were losing their homes because of the mortgage melt down, and I too stood at the brink of having this dream of homeownership evaporate. My future unknown, my thoughts were to head to Tobago, Trinidad’s sister island. I’d made a physical home for myself in California, but part of my spirit was rooted in Tobago. Something about the energy of that island allowed me to come home to myself. What I needed was the feeling of safety and sense of home. So I bought a ticket for a month’s stay in Tobago.


My body and mind slowed down when I arrived in Tobago, allowing me to just breathe and be. Often I’d visit the home of Joseph Bacchus, a local artist and master wood sculptor I’d been introduced to the year before. His yard exuded a coaxing tranquility with its lush tropical fruit trees, flowers, herbs, and plants with brightly variegated leaves. The resident brood of chickens, and the thirty plus species of birds, drawn to the rich verdant green, produced an impromptu chorus that reached a crescendo at dusk, giving way to the crickets and frogs that took to the night stage. Most nights I would find Joseph sitting on a scarred wooden bench, carving in the moonlight under a tall mango tree. A fire of coconut husk was often burning, the scented smoke keeping the mosquitos at bay.

For many of his clients, the visit was not just about the art or products, it was also about the unburdening of spirits. There was something about Joseph’s sharing about the lessons from his life path that gave inspiration and hope to those on the journey of self-discovery and healing. I was one of them.

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