Her passion is a maelstrom, pulling the masses into her swirling sea of brushes and paint, Legos and cinderblocks, yet as does Charydbis, Greek's mythological representation of the tides, all who are drawn in by this great passion are returned—churned over, tumbled round, and changed.
Her intensity frightened me at first. There are few in this world who live with such a sense of purpose and clear sense of leadership, and too often those who do separate themselves from the sense humanity that drove them to their cause. What endeared Regina Holliday to me consequently was the way her voice strained and rose an octave as she told the story of her late-husband's diagnosis with kidney cancer. It was a voice rife with emotion yet sharpened on anger and urgency. It was a voice that had experienced loss as the result of wicked biology and hurt as the result of medical arrogance and incompetency. It was a voice I recognized.
Holliday fed her experiences into her art, becoming an advocate whose paintings remind me of Van Gogh—at once fervent, piercing, melancholy, and emboldened. It's a likening about which I have commented to her before and which she drew upon when painting my story upon the back of a suit jacket for The Walking Gallery, an advocacy movement she leads as a way to bring personal stories back into healthcare. Of the more than 250 jackets now in the Gallery around the world, my jacket is number 126.
In addition to her walking works, Holliday paints on site, turning conference presentations and panel discussions into lasting metaphors. She packs a suitcase full of acrylic paints, canvases, a small palette, easel, and painter's apron, and busily translates words into images, stopping occasionally to chat with the curious onlooker unfamiliar with her work, hug a Walking Gallery member, or give yet another writer yet another interview. She's constantly on the go such that just reading her schedule makes me tired, yet she is as relentlessly as dedicated as a mother to her two young sons who already display her keen sense of wit and wisdom.
Holliday and I were at the MedCity News ENGAGE conference in Washington, D.C. when she asked if I would be her easel while she took the stage to present her latest piece, completed on site during the day-and-a-half conference. She said it was easier to explain a painting when someone else was holding it. I took the invitation at face value, honored to have the opportunity to share even the fringe of a spotlight with her. I held the painting by its wooden slat across the middle of the back. "It's very shield-like," I said.
We climbed the three small stairs to the stage and stood in a line—me, the painting, and Holliday at the podium. Her words came quickly. Neither of us were supposed to be there, she said—I having first criticized MedCity News for having no patients on the list of speakers at its first ever patient engagement conference and she having been told that she was not allowed to paint on site. However, both of us were there because our mettle met with equal moxie, as MedCity News Editor-In-Chief Veronica Combs cleared the way, enlisting me as a panelist as Holliday as painter.
Standing so close to something so fierce, I clung to my painted shield, captivated by her face. She grasped the podium's edge with her right hand, leaning toward the microphone, as her left hand curled into a loose fist, thumb turned up and just slightly separated from the rest of her fingers. And ever so slightly, that hand trembled. As she described the painting's imagery, a tornadic funnel of change with the color of a bruise, tears welled in her eyes, and as she dedicated the painting to Combs, who during a panel discussion disclosed her own miscarriage six years prior, one slick, shiny drop crested her cheek and ran down to her chin.
Past the glare of the spotlight, I saw Combs walking up the center aisle. She was crying. She and Holliday embraced. "Thank you," she said. And then she took me too into her arms. "We'll have more patients here next year I promise," she said.
Such is the way things are changed, turned around, tumbled over, and through the havoc of the heart, disrupted.
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