Saturday, February 1, 2014

It started with a portrait.

There once lived a lady whose home was a treasure to see. She had lived a long life and her home was her scrapbook, her testament to its fullness. On every table, on every wall, were scores upon scores of elegant picture frames filled with the most amazing images; a thrilling display of black and white, sepia, and color.

Most who walk into her home for the first time feel crowded and overwhelmed and think her a hoarder, and in a way they are right. She was a hoarder, a hoarder of experiences- which anyone who spends two seconds in her home can see. Each carefully selected frame holds a moment in time, a memory, an experience.

If you could still visit her now you would find her the kindest and most gracious of hostesses. She would not be offended by your distraction nor your dumbfoundedness over the mass array of photographs, rather she was always most welcoming to any sign of curiousity and freely offered her walls for your viewing pleasure.

"Please, take a look around if you wish. Pictures are made to be looked at." she would say.

And as you began to peruse her home, scanning the walls up and down, pointing every now and again, she'd be waiting where you left her, smiling as she listened to your every reaction, anticipating the photographs you would see next.

"Oh my gosh! Is that you?!" you would ask. And she would giggle and say, "At one time, yes."

" really did that?!" you might exclaim without thinking. "Oh yes." she'd say and she'd probably share a little about it depending on how fast you're moving.

All in all, you would be in awe. You would leave inspired. You would ever go on about your life remembering that woman and how she lived her life with extravagance and recklessness. You'd remember her as someone who dared to take on new things and never let fear or pressure or doubt stop her. If you could meet her, you'd admire her for all your days. I guarentee those pictures would have changed your life as much as they shaped hers.

The thing of it is that we would all admire her. We would all aspire to be like her whether or not our actions would ever affirm our desire. But for all her pictures you saw, not one depicts the questions and the grappling she faced in between the frames. And that's where most of us, who met her, faltered along the way. We left her home so ready to take on our desires and ambitions, but along our road to new life we began accumulating doubts, criticism, social pressures and challenges. Always remembering the images in her home, we press on until something somewhere breaks us and we give in. I suppose we all imagined her as never having faced those complications. I suppose we all convinced ourselves that she was different, her life was different, her time was different; not so like ours with all its restrictions and conditions. At least, that's what I told myself.

When I heard that she was dying I knew I had to go to her one last time. I went to her home where she called me back to her bedroom where she lay adorned in a stunning white lace gown, something I didn't notice upon entering because I had actually never been in this room. There was not a single frame, but there were a thousand pictures and not a single one of them was of her. Every wall, even the ceiling, was covered with portraits serving like her own wallpaper. She noticed my distraction, as she always had done. I was so overwhelmed by this room that I completely forgot my reason for being there, but somehow she knew. How, I'll never know.

"These are all my friends and family," she began, "people I've adopted through the years and people who adopted me. People come in my home and they see all the things I've done, all the places I've been, and all the adventures I've taken, but they never ask me how I did it, how I kept going all these years. If they had, I would have shown them this room. These people remind me of who I am and some remind me of who I am not. Oh life was not all a fairy tale for me as so many of my visitors assume. I faced questions I never found answers for, even now I go on asking some of the same old questions never forgotten, never answered. But questions are not as strong as revelations. These people were witnesses to my life. Some brought out the best in me, some brought out the worst in me, but every one helped me become who I am. What you see in my home are just things I did, but who I am is in this room. Determination will never last as long as relationships my dear."

She went on to tell me encounter after encounter as I went around the room pointing to portrait after portrait putting the depth and breadth of her memory on display. I learned more about her that day, about her life and how she got from frame to frame...I don't think I truly knew her before then. She was right. Who she was was in that room. She had answered a thousand unsung questions in my heart with every picture in her room. But before I left, I had one more question that needed answering and it wasn't the one I had come to ask her, "May I take your picture?" She just smiled and without words I understood her answer. I took out my phone and captured her portrait. Her face ever to remind me of the revelation she gave me. I thanked her, hugged her, and turned to leave.

"Before you go. Pick out a frame from one of my walls and take it with you, only leave the picture on the kitchen table. Make sure you fill it. Fill all the frames you can." Those were her last words to me.

When she died I went to her grave to leave her a token of thanks for her life, a portrait- my portrait. And in proper fashion I was once again dumbfounded, in awe, and overwhelmed by the piles of portraits surrounding her headstone; people forever standing witness to the woman she was; a ceremony to forever imprint how we would go about filling our frames. For me, it started with a portrait.

"Fill all the frames you can."