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A Portrait by My Mother...and the Portraits We Make of Ourselves

Updated: Feb 3, 2021

A few months ago I re-found some drawings my mother made. I probably had seen them a very long time ago, but when I found them this past summer, I was astonished at the unique style she brought to portraiture. I don't think there ever was a man as this, with such a tall and narrow head, and yet this image captures a number of qualities - a slight hauntedness combined with calmness and strength. I also am drawn to the movements she made with her pencil - such wild scraggly movements that create a variety of shapes and energy.

Now that I'm of retirement age myself, I wonder how she would draw my face. How do 30+ years of teaching and meditating show on me? And years of walking under the open sky, playing with cats, cooking meals, reading the news, and taking thousands of photographs -- how would they show up in one of her sketches?

As I think about these questions, I realize that we are always making an image--a portrait--of ourselves. Moment by moment, month by month, year by year, we are the artist of ourselves. Some of it is tangible in our face, posture, laughter, and voice. Some of it can be seen, some of it heard. It's quite a brew, to mix a metaphor. "I am large, I contain multitudes," wrote Walt Whitman in Song of Myself.

Then...then...there is the invisible I, the invisible we, the embodied and enormous I am that is without ego, past, future, or face...the one that is all egos, pasts, futures, and faces. The mystics say that we are both the face of the life we live, and the face of light that we are.

The gentleman in this portrait is both a wonderful character on the stage of this world, and the Actor that plays this role. It is the same for you and me.

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