“De Krijger” Oil on canvas, Deb Marett
One of my favorite of Naomi’s poems is “Jerusalem” which begins:
“I’m not interested in
who suffered the most.
I’m interested in
people getting over it.”
Naomi’s father was a Palestinian refugee, and she witnessed the everyday realities of that conflict from ground level when she spent part of her childhood living in Jerusalem. She has written and spoken extensively about the need for understanding, and for viewing things from a zoomed-in, personal perspective before passing judgement on any given situation.
I sometimes think of those lines from a little different perspective too, in that we all have hardships we have dealt with or are dealing with, and how important it is to look beyond those moments to see where or how we are moving past them.
Sitting here on my couch, I look across the room to one of my works-in-progress, a portrait of a woman named Diet Eman. Diet (pronounced DEET) was 20 when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, her home country. She and a group of 15 other young people went to work finding hiding places for Jews and stealing ration cards to feed them all. She spent the entire war working with the resistance, and by the end of it all she had spent time in a concentration camp, and lost 8 of those friends–including her fiance’.
Then, because she is an adventurous sort who claims that all she ever wanted was to live “an interesting life,” she spent the rest of her life telling the story of her work during the war, working as a nurse, and volunteering for the Red Cross as a translator, going into disaster zones, sleeping in the mud.
Years ago, rushing to get onto the ice where a student was waiting, I forgot to take the hard guards off my skates. As any skater who has done this (& we’ve all done it at least once) could tell you, the resulting fall was horrific. I honestly thought at first that I had broken my hip. I limped for a month afterwards, and it wasn’t until I spent several months in physical therapy that the pain truly left me. But that spot, where scar tissue is permanently entwined with the muscle structure, is vulnerable. If I don’t take care of it with stretching and exercise the pain begins to seep back in.
It seems to work that way with our psychological scars too. By this time in my life, I carry a few deep mental/emotional scars, as most of us do. I am not a believer in the idea that, because someone else’s suffering is greater than my own, it makes mine less important or impactful. We all carry the scars of past hurts, experiences, and disappointments. We all feel the recurrent pain of a scar, long healed over, when it gets reopened just a bit.
I took Diet’s portrait to a critique session, looking for help in a few areas where I was stuck. My mentor, Mindy, started going over the painting area by area. “See here, where the palms of the hands come together,” she said, tracing over the paint with the edge of a fingernail, “the angle should come up more steeply.” “And over here on her neck,” the fingernail sliced though the paint across Diet’s neck, “the shadows need to indicate more form.” This continued throughout the critique; I left with the portrait marked every which way with fingernail cut lines.
I actually didn’t think too much of it at first, thinking I would just paint over them and all would be fine. But it didn’t work– the lines still showed very clearly. The cut across her neck was especially deep. I tried scraping it carefully with my palette knife, which left an even wider gap. I tried to fill the new gap by using paint kind of as spackle, trying to smooth the surface back out.
Diet’s book, Things We Couldn’t Say, is a moving autobiography of her work during the war. She willingly speaks all over the country about her experiences. The tears that still come to her eyes, at age 94, attest to the fact that her scars do not entirely shield her from the painful memories.
I agree with Naomi, wishing for resolution to old conflicts, healing of old wounds, and looking forward rather than back. But I also hope to remind myself and others, that the old scars we inevitably all carry are tender, and we should try to remember that we are among the walking wounded at all times.
I am so honored to create a portrait for Diet, to commemorate her courage. And I think it is quite fitting that out of all the portraits that will hang for the “Famous” show, hers is the one that will forever carry hidden scars. May we all bear our own with as much courage and determination as she does hers.