A Secret Inside Of Us

Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.

There is something intriguing about his writings. From early on, we were told that O. Henry is someone who is known for his surprise endings. As I read, again, his story of The Last Leaf, I wondered to myself how many people may have had the experience of being surprised, in their own lives, by the way things have turned out for them. Sometimes, it seems like there is a secret at work inside of us. Even St. Teresa of Avila mentions that she never planned on founding a new group. In fact, it was a holy restlessness that prodded her on.

The setting for O. Henry’s Last Leaf is that of a quaint Greenwich Village in the season of late autumn. Gradually, that spot became somewhat of a “colony” of artists. The story centers around Sue and Johnsy (familiar for Joanna) who, upon meeting, found that their tastes in art were congenial. As a result, they set up a joint studio.

She Counted the Leaves

Because of an unusually cold November, Johnsy fell victim to a severe case of pneumonia, which threatened her life. She lay in bed, scarcely making a ripple under her bedclothes, with her face toward the window. From this vantage point she was able to see a vine that had climbed up a brick wall. One by one, she counted the leaves as they fell. She told her friend that, when the last leaf fell, she, too, would go.
Mr. Behrman was a painter, who lived below them. He seemed to be a failure in art. Well past sixty, he had been trying to wield the brush for forty years without success. In the corner of one of his rooms, there was a blank canvas on an easel that had been waiting twenty- five years to receive the first stroke of a masterpiece.

It Was Still There

Through a conversation with Sue, Mr. Behrman learned of Johnsy’s decision to go with the last leaf that fell. Every day, Johnsy went on counting the leaves backward. One morning, Johnsy awoke, pulled up the shade and saw that the last leaf was still there, in spite of the fierce wind and rain of the night. Johnsy asked her friend, Sue, to bring her some broth. She wanted to live. Later in the morning, Johnsy told Sue that she planned on painting the Bay of Naples.

After the doctor had been there, confirming that Johnsy was out of danger, Sue went over to the bed where Johnsy lay contentedly knitting a useless blue scarf. Sue had something to tell her friend. “Mr. Behrman died of pneumonia this morning,” Sue began. “The janitor found him two days ago. His shoes and clothing were wet through and through with an icy cold. They found a lantern still lighted and a ladder, and some scattered brushes, and a palette with colors. Look out the window and see the last ivy leaf on the wall. Didn’t you wonder why it never fluttered or moved? Mr. Behrman painted it there the night the last leaf fell.”

Is There A Masterpiece

As I reflected on this story, I wondered if there could be a masterpiece inside all of us that acts somewhat like a guiding star. It also seems that the masterpiece is connected with doing good for others. In the end we are to present this work of art to our Maker, from Whom we came, and Who, with great love awaits our return.

When I was nineteen, in another century, I taught first grade. I had a marvelous Sister helper. One of the things I learned from her was how to comment on the drawings of little people. One does not say, “What is that?” Instead, the correct response is: “Tell me about your picture.” In a sort of child-like way, I have the hope that when I meet my Maker, after trying very hard along the way, I will hear a soft and kindly Voice saying, “Tell me about your picture.”

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