Painting: Ulysses (Inspired by song “Ulysses” by Josh Garrels)
The beauty of the song had captivated me. The melody rose then dropped, swelling and subsiding like the waves of the ocean. The words captured deep loneliness, longing, hope, desperation. Then the music built and swelled, growing more wild and intense until the climax—these words:
So tie me to the mast of this old ship and point me home
With those words, I broke. The song struck something deep in my heart, and I didn’t really understand why. All I knew was that the song was absolutely beautiful, and that the climax at that line caused my throat to tighten and tears to burn in my eyes.
So, I listened to it again and again. Over and over. It was so beautiful that it hurt, and no matter how many times I listened to it, it moved me every time.
The song was Ulysses by Josh Garrels. It takes inspiration from the Greek legend of Ulysses, who goes away to fight in the Trojan war. After the war ends, he sets out across the sea to go back to his wife, to go home. It takes him 10 years. Trials beset him; the earth, ocean, and sky all rage against him, determined that he never make it there. Yet he presses on.
I couldn’t contain all the emotions the song stirred in me. The loneliness, desperate longing, aching beauty—I felt I could not rest until I expressed them somehow. When I closed my eyes as I listened, blues and purples swirled inside my head, darkness and wind and waves and a storm that threatens to tear the boat into pieces. And one sailor. Almost in despair, but clinging to the glimpse of hope he had left. Point me home. So desperate is he that he orders himself to be tied to the mast; either he’ll get there or die trying but he will not leave the ship. He will not stop unless the ocean itself covers the deck and steals the very breath from his lungs.
So, I painted it. And it was only as I mixed the colors and pulled my brush across the canvas that I began to understand why the song moved me so deeply.
It all revolves around the idea of home. Sounds simple, right?
My home was broken. When I painted Ulysses, I didn’t long to go “home” to my family, everything in me wanted to run as far away as I could. I didn’t feel safe there; I felt anxious and torn apart. Certain families opened their homes to me when things got too bad for me to stay with my own family, and I love them so much it hurts. Yet I still always had this aching knowledge that I didn’t belong there; that I wasn’t a part of the family, and my stay wasn’t permanent.
Ulysses (the song) touched a really sore place in my heart because I didn’t know where home was, or if I really had one. I always had somewhere to live, but I wrestled with where I belonged; I longed to belong somewhere. And honestly, I still wrestle with these things.
I didn’t just paint Ulysses; I poured myself into it. All the hurt, confusion, the aching longing, the painful beauty—all of it was an inextricable part of the painting. More than any other specific point in time, I believe that it was in painting Ulysses that I truly became an artist. Even today, I consider it my masterpiece. It is the painting that I refuse to replicate; to replicate it would be to cheapen what it means to me.
Even with all the pain and longing that went into Ulysses, it still points my heart to hope. Hope for a home—somewhere where I truly belong. Because deep down, my soul knows that, one day, I’ll get there. Fully loved, fully known, and fully healed, my restless heart will find rest. And all the anguish and confusion and loneliness will not only be over, but it will all be worth it.
So keep holding onto hope, friend. There’s light on the horizon.