Saturday, May 22, 2010


Oscar William "Bill" Rabensteiner, Jr., my father, contracted polio in 1925, at the age of 7, long before Drs. Salk and Sabin developed their vaccines. He told a story of sitting in his wheelchair, pulling himself up with the porch railing, then walking the length of the porch gripping that railing like a toddler on the verge of unassisted walking. His disease could have put him on his back or in a wheelchair for life, but combining his and his mother's determination, through sheer will he learned to walk again and strengthened his arms with weight training. He went on to express an incredible artistic talent at Jesuit High School in New Orleans and throughout his 30+ years as artistic director of New Orleans Recreation Department. When I am asked to name qualities my parents instilled in me, I will always proffer perseverance as the top quality my father taught me. Against seemingly impossible odds, he overcame the crippling potential of polio and gave the world his art--powerful, richly colored, emotional, and truth-telling. As illustrated in this image from his Head of Christ, modeled in part on his own face, Bill knew suffering, but knew how to transform it by means of oil paint into a word of truth about what our separation from the Word of God meant for humanity.

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