Artist Fay Ballard is leading a weekly creative workshop with dialysis patients at Hammersmith Hospital. She is writing a weekly blog in response to her experiences.
‘Fear no more the heat o’ the sun’ by William Shakespeare
Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
Nor the furious winter’s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
Fear no more the frown o’ the great;
Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke;
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak:
The scepter, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.
Fear no more the lightning flash,
Nor the all-dreaded thunder stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finished joy and moan:
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.
No exorciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have;
And renownèd be thy grave!
I read these words on the tube this morning, unaware of their inauspicious importance. My rucksack contained the book, ‘The Queen of Heaven’, marked at the page showing Filippo Lippi’s ‘The Adoration of the Child’. Josephine was keen to see and copy this image to display in her kitchen.
When I arrived on the ward, she wasn’t there. Maura, the Head nurse, explained that Josephine had died. Pausing for breath, I remembered her last Wednesday sitting up in bed, smiling, wearing her fresh pink lace blouse and praying for me.
I hoped that our shared experience of looking through the Renaissance paintings of the Virgin Mary and Christ with St John the Baptist had been nourishing and comforting. I imagined her at home looking at the four images of the Virgin Mary we’d photocopied and at the drawing of the Madonna and Child which she’d coloured. Sadness swept over me like a dark shadow.
Irving and I had promised to speak this week and it was an opportune time to raise the subject of confession, topic of a recent BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Beyond Belief’ which had triggered in my mind several unanswered questions. We dug deep, and Irving explained his belief in the importance of taking individual responsibility for one’s actions. Asking him to name the cornerstones of this belief, Irving listed: to respect and love others; to respect the law; to value education; and to respect the natural world. Irving spoke about Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (1135 – 1204) who’d lived in Egypt. He was one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages, who wrote widely on law and ethics, grounded in science and philosophy, and with an interest in Aristotelian thought and Biblical faith. Irving mentioned that in due course at a quieter time, he’d write a text about individual responsibility which we could display in the waiting area of the ward alongside the other artworks.
At Maura’s suggestion, I introduced myself to Chantelle who was lying in bed next to Irving and we spoke at length about our lives. She remembered art at school but hadn’t done any since. Would she be interested in making some art with me? Yes, it could be an interesting way to fight the boredom of hours on dialysis and we agreed to meet up next week.
A nurse came over and said Michael wanted a word. I left Chantelle and made my way over to his bed on the other side of the ward. Alas, it was now too late to start a painting so we spoke instead, first about the English Reformation when the Church of England broke away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church and then about the dissolution of the monasteries including Lewes Priory, now an historic site open to the public. And we talked about the ways in which Catholics continued to worship covertly. Changing the subject, Michael explained how his dialysis machine worked and I sat peering at the ‘artificial kidney’ which was cleansing his blood, an upright spherical object full of something unknown which resembled cotton filigree. We agreed that I’d begin my visit next week with Michael, setting up his painting.
Olive and I had been catching each other’s smiles throughout the morning and we talked about her special family weekend and the bookmark she’d made for her granddaughter. We remembered Josephine who’d been her close neighbour on the ward for some time, and the sense of loss we felt.