Monday, December 17, 2012

A Long Look in the Mirror

"Self Portrait 2012," oil, 14"x 11", copyright Jill Banks 2012
I was back at painting a self portrait today ... staring at myself in the mirror ... and working on a canvas that now holds many layers of me.  Or, sort of me.

A Tribute
Yesterday, Randy and I attended the memorial service for Dr. Nancy Bruckner.  I'd gotten to know Nancy as a student in my Portrait Painting class.  She'd taken up art after being forced to leave her dermatology practice due to a return of breast cancer symptoms after a seven-year-long remission.

During that first term Nancy was taking my class, I was unaware that she had cancer.  It came up at an end of class session lunch get-together.  Nancy said, now that we've painted together, why don't we go around the circle and tell each other something about ourselves. She led off, and that's when she spoke about her illness. I remember that afternoon as one of realizing just how much we don't see about those people around us -- and the treasure and wisdom to be found when we take the opportunity to ask, listen and discover each other.

That was part of what made the 100 Faces in 100 Days Project so special -- when I painted an alla prima portrait of sitters who volunteered their faces and thoughts every day from January 1 to April 10, 2011.  Nancy was one of those faces. I recall our conversation.  I was shocked at how much hardship she'd had in her life.  It was difficult to imagine walking in her shoes.  At that time, while struggling with her own health issues, she was helping to care for her invalid brother and ailing father.  She didn't question "why me?" but seemed just to accept the facts and figure out how to make the best of it.  Because so many of her circumstances were sad (to me), I probed for answers less.  Yesterday's service showed me how much I missed.

What I didn't immediately see is while her life's circumstances weren't easy, Nancy built a beautiful life. She chose a wonderful husband. Loved lots. Treated patients, family, friends with great respect, empathy and care.  Lived deliberately. Showed the way. Threw herself into each of her endeavors -- the projects she took on -- including painting, a found passion chosen later in life. Made sure she let people know what they meant to her. 

What Nancy's husband, Steven, wanted us to see through the memorial service were all the facets of her life that formed her whole exceptional person.  It was a celebration of her as mom, wife, relative, healer (doctor), colleague, artist, friend, and caregiver. In his introduction, Steven mentioned that this may be the first memorial service in which you hear from the deceased. Nancy had typed up a letter to be read there at the gathering. She wanted to have the last word, or at least the first of the last words. What I remember in Nancy's message was how much she loved the people in her life.  She recalled regretting not speaking at her nanny's funeral -- that she had a lot to say but was worried about bungling the words. How wonderful a person she was deserved to be heard.

Nancy, I'm sure, is proud of all of those who spoke up for her yesterday. Among the tears were laughter (Nancy had quite a sense of humor), music that soothed the soul, and thankfulness for having been touched by her life.

(For those of you who receive this via email -- go to for this and today's post.)

100 Faces in 100 Days Project
Phone: 703.403.7435

Events and Exhibits

"Large Squares, Small Squares," Gallery at the Artists' Atelier, November 14-December 31. Open Hours: Wednesdays and Saturdays, noon to 4pm, 1144 Walker Road, Suite G, Great Falls, VA 22066. Closed: December 26.

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