(Michael Haag is a social psychologist and long time resident of the San Francisco Bay Area. His complete collection of writings for the jonestown report may be found here. He may be reached at email@example.com.)
More than ten years have passed since Patti Chastain died of AIDS on February 5, 1995. The paintings and words below are still vibrant and relevant to your life and mine. The raw honesty, clear vision and determination to leave something of value to those of us left behind are still there in every painting and in every word. Most of us will never have the experience Patti had of knowing of an incurable illness that certainly did kill her within a relatively short period of time and at such a young age (Patti was 48 when she died). Most of us will not have the advantage she had of a few precious years to survey our lives and discover what lessons lie therein, nor perhaps the talent to express our thoughts and feelings in art as we go out of this world.
As her husband, I used to call Patti “the cat with nine lives.” She survived albinism. She survived overturning in a bus on the back roads of India as a young woman in her 20’s, as well as numerous other misadventures. She even survived Jonestown. But eventually not even Patti could survive AIDS. Was she unlucky, even cursed? No, I don’t believe that at all. Patti was a risk taker. And for that you pay a price. She had the courage of her convictions that led her to join Peoples Temple. She had the strength to fight for what she thought was right and to endure hardship and deprivation (which Jim provided in ample measure to most of his flock). Patti saw the good that Jim was doing and wanted to fight for that. She missed seeing the dark side of Jim, but so did many others. That she and others survived Peoples Temple was a miraculous act of a merciful God, I believe.
Patti went on to make good use of this gift of life after 1978. She overcame her own death wish that threatened to devour her for more than a year after Jonestown. Finally she found the courage, strength and return of hopefulness for a better world that led her to a new life. Had she lived, Patti would have made a difference in the lives of needy people, much as she had hoped to do in the Temple. She became an occupational therapist and began to work with the elderly. AIDS, however, cut that career short after only a couple of years.
Patti’s choice of painting and authorship was determined by necessity. Her time was short, and she knew she wanted to communicate to you, dear reader, what she could of her remarkable life. For example, Patti found true love, and that love was severely tested by AIDS. She wanted you to know that love is not always easy, but love is worth it regardless of the outcome. Patti found peace at the end of her life, even with so much left unlived. She wanted you to know that you don’t always get your story to end the way you want it. You may still make something precious out of that which you do get. Most of all Patti wanted you to know that her life did make a difference. Patti mattered. Her life was not for nothing.
So, dear reader, continue on and enjoy the paintings Patti so lovingly and painfully created. Her work speaks to us all, because we are as human as she was. Her struggles are timeless. Hers were the lessons we all need to help us in our own crises and to find wisdom and peace to make the right decisions and to do the right thing. Fellow traveler, may you find your muse as did Patti Chastain, and may you live as well and honorably as did she.
Patti’s Introduction, 1993
I am an artist with AIDS—a woman painting for life. I present these paintings from my “Speed of Light” series. They are expressions of spirit honoring moments of simple beauty and true feeling that illuminate my process toward wholeness and peace. This is healing.
I want to convey the essence of what moves me in nature and give expression to my own authentic feelings. I express appreciation and bring understanding and healing in my life. Desiring reconciliation and integration of difference, I celebrate the light and engage the shadow. While I do not seek representation, many images bear impressionistic reference to the natural environment as I see it.
My vision and my experience arise in part from my condition of albinism. From birth my hair and skin have been unusually white, and my eyesight impaired. Being conspicuously different and limited in this way has been painful – it has challenged me to learn self-acceptance. Ironically, my different way of seeing is also a gift of artistic vision and imagination that opens my eyes to beauty and beyond.
AIDS is my teacher too. The lessons are critical: breathe, eat, take care, take time, take heart, be present, be real, be happy. Easy to say. Fear and pain bring me down. I am restored through love, hope, determination and art.
Art heals! My desire to express my truth and to share my vision leads me to paint. In this creative domain I am open to intuitive sub-conscious awareness. Images emerge which allow a psychological and energetic shift for me. I make choices and judgments that affirm my self-trust. I take risks and I make mistakes. I experience my doubts and destructiveness, and I forgive myself for what is lost. I see my own beauty and vitality reflected in my paintings. I enjoy myself, and in the process I am falling in love with myself.
I believe that when I am true to myself I create a deeper connection with others. The more personal my expression the more universal is its meaning. My paintings offer healing to viewers who are moved to experience and acknowledge their own feelings. I invite you to enjoy my paintings and enjoy yourself.
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