|11/22/20 Toni (from photo)|
Last Friday, I participated in a healing circle for Toni, who is struggling mightily against COVID-19. A cancer survivor years ago, Toni is a fighter, but her foe is formidable. Fran, my long-time yoga instructor and Toni’s sister, asked her students to join family and friends in the circle to send healing energy to Toni.
The circle leader had encouraged us to participate with prayer, meditation or “whatever was our personal tradition.” I had never been to a healing circle before, let alone on Zoom (what a bizarre platform for making a spiritual connection! Zoom feels about as spiritual as the TV remote or an air conditioning unit!). The leader had put on some music that I thought was weird (but maybe that music is important to Toni? I guess I should listen). It lasted 20 minutes, and although I tried hard, I felt uncomfortable and distracted the whole time.
Prayer? Meditation? What is my “tradition”? I don’t have one. Of course, I meditate during yoga, but that’s because Fran leads it! That’s why I take classes! I don’t know how to meditate on my own. The participants that I could see all had their eyes closed, deep in prayer or thought, but I didn’t even have the courage to turn on my video because I didn’t want them to see how distracted I was.
At the end when we were invited to share comments, I couldn’t turn on my audio. I didn’t have anything I could say. Although Fran has told many stories about Toni so I have a general sense of her as a person, I have never met her, so I didn’t even have an anecdote about her to share. (Edited 12/4/20: Here's a blog post by Fran that taught me much about what Toni is all about.) Although I was hoping Toni would receive the healing energy that I was trying to send, I felt I had failed her and her family. I didn’t know how to make a spiritual connection with someone I hadn’t met, and I spent the whole time thinking about how wrong I was doing it.
I thought about Toni the rest of the day. I finally realized that whenever I draw something, I make a connection with it – even if it’s a trash can, a head of garlic, or a stranger on the bus. I realized then that I needed to draw Toni to connect with her.
In her blog posts and email updates about Toni’s health, Fran has included many photos of Toni at various ages. I don’t like to draw from photos, especially of people, and certainly people I don’t know. It feels like an academic exercise to copy the paintings of masters or simply duplicate an image. But it was all I had.
Studying Toni’s face, I tried to channel Gary Faigin and the portrait workshop I took from him last year. Faigin says that capturing a likeness is not about getting every eyelash and other facial details exactly right. It’s far more important to accurately gauge proportions and describe the planes of the face with shadow and light. I tried my best to do that, but I also knew it was important to capture her “essence.” It’s not enough to describe the shape of her radiant smile – her essence is in the light behind the smile (Fran says Toni always lights up the room with her presence).
In the reference photo, she is wearing a pendant, barely visible, on a gold chain. It’s the kind of detail that I might omit in a sketch. I noticed, though, that she is wearing the same pendant in every adult photo I saw, whether she was dressed up for a special occasion or in a tank top. In one photo, I could see that the pendant holds someone’s portrait. If Toni always wears it – a face close to her heart – it’s obviously special to her. It belonged in the drawing.
I had to stop many times as I drew because I could not see through my tears. I don’t know if I captured either likeness or essence, but I do know that I made the connection I needed. All my healing energy went to Toni as I drew.
Most would say that the act of drawing is neither prayer nor meditation, but it is obviously my personal tradition. Today I am thankful to Toni for teaching me this.
Updated 11/28/20: Toni is not doing well. Here is her sister Fran's update.