LOU'S VIEWS: The art we leave behind

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Lou Harry

A&E“So, are you going to go soft now?” That’s what a blunt friend asked me about a week after the January death of my daughter Maggie.

The friend wasn’t trying to shock me. She honestly wanted to know how the work that I care so much about would be affected by such an overwhelming, unfathomable loss.

That was two months ago.

Meanwhile, in “August: Osage County” at the Phoenix Theatre, a mother turned to her daughter: “Listen to me,” she implored, “die after me, all right? I don’t care what else you do, where you go, how you screw up your life, just ... survive. Outlive me, please.”

Then, at the Palladium, Bernadette Peters sang “No One is Alone” as I listened with an empty seat beside me.

And as I sat down to a meal in a Zionsville restaurant, the guitarist-in-residence unaware of my circumstances began plucking out “Tears in Heaven.”

Am I going soft? my friend asked.

At services for my daughter, there came an outpouring of support—much of it from the Indy arts community—that I can compare only to my first time looking out over the Grand Canyon.

Grace, like nature, can be difficult to grasp on such a scale.

Empowered by the love and support of those around me, I wrote:

Every evening, we lose the morning
Every day, we lose yesterday.

What happens happens in its own time.
And then is gone.
A walk, a gesture, an adventure.
There in the moment
Not in the next

... And so it is not for the past we mourn.
We had the past, even as shared memories now live in only one heart.

We mourn instead for what we’ve lost.
Tomorrow’s walk, tomorrow’s gesture, tomorrow’s adventure.
That’s where the weight of “never” lies.

We think we can know the size of sorrow.
We can’t.

It has proven time and again to be larger than we can imagine.

But sorrow does not rise and stand alone.
It can and often does have a beautiful shadow.
That shadow is musical—a chorus of love and support that rises up behind sorrow.

One unique and beautiful voice adding to another unique and beautiful voice and then adding to another.

That beautiful shadow stands up to sorrow, never defeating it, but refusing to let it reign alone.

My daughter Maggie was an artist—a painter and a poet, an actress and a dancer. Being an artist isn’t something she aspired to be. It’s something she was. She created because that’s what she did, painting on any material she could find—a piece of particle board from an old dresser, the inside of a shoe box.

The artwork with this column is hers. As is this poem:

i have all the souls i need

sunrise places its hand over night’s mouth, softly but firmly, saying hush now, it’s time to end—the mother telling the son that maybe he should take a deep breath.

flowers can speak, but they won’t. they’re far, far too bashful. at the dinner party, all flowers do is whisper to one another: you sure do look beautiful today, my love. i smile because if i listen closely enough, i can hear them. ...

grass is a fighter. he is yanked on and pulled apart, but just keeps coming back stronger. he is there for me when i am nervous on my first date, in the park, where he selflessly allows me to peel him away to occupy my shaking hands.

a tree is a writer at heart. the tree gives me shade and a piece of fruit and a pencil for me to dream up stories with and paper to be marked upon. the way a tree will always know what i need and the way a tree will always give it to me.

dirt waits and sees if i liked the movie first, before telling me if she did. i am raining, dirt will turn to mud for me.

i curse snow, but he stands his ground. i respect that. snow may be difficult, but he’s the one who gives me the nod of approval when i step onto him in my far too large galoshes instead of uggs like all the other girls.

as hard as she tries, rain will never be able to smile. the best i can do for her is dance with her and yell out to her “you are loved!”

i have all the souls i need and i couldn’t ask for them if i tried, because even the wildest imaginations cannot dream up the wonders souls like those possess. —Maggie Harry

My daughter believed in souls more than I do. But if there is such a thing, art is the best window into them that we’ve got. Maggie’s work and words are the tangible things that I treasure most from the thousands of objects left from her life.A&E

Going soft? Truth is: I’ve always been soft.

I’m the guy who wept at Butler Theatre’s “Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah” and the “On the Willows” song in any production of “Godspell” I’ve ever seen. Soft, to me, implies being receptive to experiences, to seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. To being open to the empathy implied in all art.

But that won’t keep me from being as tough and as passionate and honest an advocate for excellence and exploration as I hope I’ve always been. Maggie, a tougher critic than I’ll ever be, wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.•


  • thanks, lou
    oh lou...all of us who have lost loved ones, especially bright and shining young lives, share your grief. keep writing, and thank you for this beautiful peice.
  • Your daughter
    Thank you for sharing this with us. I don't
    know what your faith may be, but I still talk
    to my mother every day in my heart, and she
    has been gone for many years. I believe they are able to listen to us and comfort us.
  • Wow...
    Those are some beautiful words, from both of you. Thank you for sharing this.
  • Wonderous Ripples
    Thank you for sharing your daughter's beauty amid your own sorrow. The dropping of a pebble in a pool ripples far beyond. And both your words and hers have hit me.
  • our Mags
    This touched me beyond words. She will always be in 0ur hearts
  • Perfect
    Wonderful piece and a moving reminder of the importance and impact of individual creative work. Thank you so much for sharing.
  • Wow
  • Lou/Mags
    The entire piece was very moving! Thanks for sharing Maggie's art and yours.
  • love to all
    Thank you, Loum, for sharing these magnificent pieces of Maggie's heart, and yours.
  • A&E
    Love. Her art is beautiful and her poem makes me smile every time I read it.
  • mags
    IBJ, thank you so much for giving my dad the opportunity to show off my sister's beautiful ideas. Thank you for publishing her work.
  • Grace
    Wonderful column, Lou. Though we're no longer neighbors I carry wonderful memories of those years. You and Cindy are wonderful, loving,and caring parents and I have such admiration for you both. I've marveled at the Grace you have shown in a time of deep darkness, and I've learned from your actions and words. Keep on doing what you do because you do it so well.
  • Outstanding
    Outstanding article, Lou. You are spot on and this is a wonderful tribute to Maggie. Thanks for the reminders

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  1. Why not take some time to do some research before traveling to that Indiana town or city, and find the ones that are no smoking either inside, or have a patio? People like yourself are just being selfish, and unnecessarily trying to take away all indoor venues that smokers can enjoy themselves at. Last time I checked, it is still a free country, and businesses do respond to market pressure and will ban smoking, if there's enough demand by customers for it(i.e. Linebacker Lounge in South Bend, and Rack and Helen's in New Haven, IN, outside of Fort Wayne). Indiana law already unnecessarily forced restaurants with a bar area to be no smoking, so why not support those restaurants that were forced to ban smoking against their will? Also, I'm always surprised at the number of bars that chose to ban smoking on their own, in non-ban parts of Indiana I'll sometimes travel into. Whiting, IN(just southeast of Chicago) has at least a few bars that went no smoking on their own accord, and despite no selfish government ban forcing those bars to make that move against their will! I'd much rather have a balance of both smoking and non-smoking bars, rather than a complete bar smoking ban that'll only force more bars to close their doors. And besides IMO, there are much worser things to worry about, than cigarette smoke inside a bar. If you feel a bar is too smoky, then simply walk out and take your business to a different bar!

  2. As other states are realizing the harm in jailing offenders of marijuana...Indiana steps backwards into the script of Reefer Madness. Well...you guys voted for your Gov...up to you to vote him out. Signed, Citizen of Florida...the next state to have medical marijuana.

  3. It's empowering for this niche community to know that they have an advocate on their side in case things go awry. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lrst9VXVKfE

  4. Apparently the settlement over Angie's List "bundling" charges hasn't stopped the practice! My membership is up for renewal, and I'm on my third email trying to get a "basic" membership rather than the "bundled" version they're trying to charge me for. Frustrating!!

  5. Well....as a vendor to both of these builders I guess I have the right to comment. Davis closed his doors with integrity.He paid me every penny he owed me. Estridge,STILL owes me thousands and thousands of dollars. The last few years of my life have been spent working 2 jobs, paying off the suppliers I used to work on Estridge jobs and just struggling to survive. Shame on you Paul...and shame on you IBJ! Maybe you should have contacted the hundreds of vendors that Paul stiffed. I'm sure your "rises from the ashes" spin on reporting would have contained true stories of real people who have struggled to find work and pay of their debts (something that Paul didn't even attempt to do).