While teaching children’s art, I’ve discovered that kids are particularly good at expressing and creating whole self portraits. In one project, each body part is represented by either an experience that has actually occurred – or that the young artist imagines will transpire some day.
Legs become paintings of places they have been or hope to visit; arms turn into images of skills already practiced or desiring to learn; the heart depicts what is loved; the belly shows symbols of strength and power, and the head becomes a mural of what the future may hold. It’s a favorite lesson to teach because the artistic elements of real self and portrayed self merge together so naturally and become tangible art.
But what of the deeper, multi-chaptered stories in our bodies? What of the years of arthritis in my mother that has gradually changed the very structure of her gentle capable hands – robbing her of knitting and gardening and holding things securely – and leaving her to contend with true pain and lessons of patience and surrender? What of the knowing in an Olympian athlete’s muscles, after years of training and sculpting, that overrides the mind and challenges him forward to push the edge of physical potential? What of the impression that cancer has made in my son – the mutated cells that spiraled through his strong vibrant bone marrow and then the medicine, the poison, that was administered to slaughter those cells? What of the feel of the strings against a violinist’s fingertips, the first taste each summer of sweet melon, the feel of rising tears, or your beloved’s touch?
All these things – and so much more – make each of us beautiful, extraordinary, tragic, unique and priceless living art-forms. We are novels of tales that defy words and sculpting made of the truest stuff of life. I’ll leave you with these opening lyrics from Brandi Carlile’s haunting song, The Story, and ask – What story lies within your body?
All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don’t mean anything
When you’ve got no one to tell them to
It’s true, I was made for you