A Portrait’s Point Of View

by Rachel Ghamela Johnson

I was painted three hundred and fifty years ago.  I came together by small strokes of the brush, bit by bit.  First it was my eyes.  I am glad that my creator began with my eyes.  They say that the eyes are the window to the soul.  In my case, the eyes are the window from my soul.  Sight came to me slowly.  It was only fuzzy images at first, moving shadows.  But as my painter became more detailed, focusing on the nuances of the light in my eyes, so my view became more detailed and the things I saw slowly came into focus.  I know that my eyes came first because I watched as the rest of me was created, carefully, meticulously painted.  I loved watching my creator’s moods.  He was so attentive, lovingly creating, adjusting, modifying, overlaying color on color, until he felt I was perfect. 

For many years I lived in a beautiful mansion.  I watched the family as it came and went, babies were born, children grew, people aged and died, and younger people took their place.  I watched it all happen and listened to their stories.  There were exciting times and very quiet times.  It was living in that house, with that family, that I learned how to watch people.  I learned to observe them, to identify their behaviors, and to understand what they thought, how they felt.  When they laughed my soul laughed with them, and when they wept, I thought a tear might drip down the canvas as I cried with them.

Later in my life I was brought to the place where I am now.  It is very quiet and respectful here in this place.  There are many like me here, sometimes we are placed on a wall where we can see one another.  We look out at each other from our own spaces, sharing our souls with each other through our eyes, each according to our ability.  During the day, many people come to look at us.  It is very different from when I lived with the family.  These people do not live their lives in front of me.  They simply look at me.  Some walk slowly by, gazing at me for a time, then looking at the friend next to me.  Some stand across the room and stare for a while.  Others will stand directly in front of me and look straight into my eyes.  I like when they do this, we share our souls when this happens.  They look into me, and I look deeply into them.  I feel at these moments, that I am once again a part of a family, I am connected to a human story, to human thoughts and feelings.  I hope that these moments speak to them as much as they speak to me.

But it has been quiet, silent for many days.  Normally, there is one day a week when we are quiet and no one comes to visit, every other day we are surrounded by so many people.  But now, for so long now, it has been quiet.  No one comes to visit.  Occasionally the guard or cleaning attendant will walk by, but they never look, they never gaze into my eyes.  They are lonely in their work, but they do not see that I care.  I miss the people coming by.  I miss them looking at me, talking about me.  I loved to listen to the things they said, even when they did not like the way that I am painted.  Some, who did not take the time to look into my eyes, could not understand my expression, they thought my face looked cold or distant.  Others criticized the way my dress sits on my curves.  I did not mind these comments because they cared enough to express themselves, and it was something new to understand.  Of course, I miss my admirers too – those who could see how lovingly I was painted.  I loved listening to how they discussed my creator and gave him credit for my existence.  I miss watching the people interact with each other.  There were rambunctious children whose parents thought they did not care, but I knew, I saw that they saw me.  We saw each other in their child moments.  They care as only a child can.  Then there were the older people being moved around in their wheeled chairs by middle age adults who love them.  I saw many things in those wise old eyes, so many hurts and joys and struggles and loves.  And there were students who came to practice their drawing.  They tried very hard to imitate my creator and gave us both such honor with their efforts.  

But none of these people are here now.  It is so quiet.  I hope that we do not stay in this isolation very long, it is a lonely existence without people around.  I long for them to come back, to look at me, or even to simply walk by me on their way to look at someone else.  I eagerly await my next admirer, the one who will gaze into my eyes, so that I may look into his and we may have a moment of soul connection.

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