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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

Drawing Irma G

And so the eleven months comes to an end.

The final kaddish of the eleven months will be this coming Shabbat and then one month later, on the Hebrew date of the one year anniversary, the year will come to a close.

For the past few months I have been part of a room where we have the chance each day to recall some small snippet of our loved ones. What did they like to do? What made them laugh? What were the foods they made, did they like sports, were they involved in politics?

Being a part of a small group where we have focused on making memories has been a powerful experience. Through these snippets shared each morning, the memories of our loved ones have remained clear, still at the forefront of our minds. Storytelling connects people, even people we don't know well. The stories we have shared have created an indelible bond between the people in our group.

What about drawing?

I have a friend with whom I have studied Torah for years now. Her name is Rena. A year and a half ago I was fortunate to take her mother's photograph as part of my "Beauty of Aging" project. During the pandemic she has been studying drawing. After taking a walk together a few weeks ago, she called and asked if she might use some of mom's hat photographs as subjects for her drawing. Rena said that she considered mom's photos great subjects because of her strong expressions and the colors of her hats and scarves.

When artists paint portraits, what do they see? What can they perceive in their subject's lines and quirks? When drawing or painting an elderly subject does the artist see their subject's lives in their wrinkles? With photography being so prevalent over the decades, we have fewer formal portraits. Although a photograph captures a likeness and perhaps even character so deeply, I wonder about the difference between painting a portrait and taking a photo. What is the effect on the artist as she studies a person deeply for days or weeks? Does the artist gain some understanding from studying a person's image? Does the artist, who may never have known the subject, imagine that person's life and who the subject is?

Rena spent what I imagine was hours sketching and copying mom's photos. She examined every line on her face. She struggled over the shape of the eyes, the length of the nose. Her pencil sketched and then sketched again. She stared deep into mom's photos and recreated her on paper. She experimented with color and with black and white. For those hours Irma G was alive in Rena's mind and through her hands her images come to life on this page.

For those hours that Rena drew mom she was remembered. Her image was seen, her smile noticed, the twinkle in her eyes lived again. When we are gone, I think that the bottom line is being remembered. Who remembers us? Are the memories in people's minds pleasant memories? Do those memories bring them happiness? Will our memories still be with our loved ones even years after we have departed this earth? What will they recall?

Judging from the room where I have saying kaddish for Irma G, I hear daily the memories shared by others about their loved ones and they are filled with love, with humor, and feeling. The power of memory is that it perhaps blurs the lines in an individual's life and it is the wonderful and memorable stories that remain. Lines and stories smooth out, stories become traditions to share and life is celebrated.

Rena, thank you for celebrating mom's life. Thank you for looking deeply at her lines and considering her shapes and colors. Thank you for remembering her. It is a great gift.

"Art is not what you see, but what you make others see." Edward Degas

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