c. Susan Sorrell Hill
The Illustration Friday word of the week is prehistoric.
I could never relate to the friends who became parents and then for ever after chronicled History by the ages and activities of their children. Casually prefaced sentences with preambles like, “When Johnny was a baby…” or, “The year that Sally got her braces…”, left me feeling like an outsider among members of a secret and widespread club.
But then I realized that I had my own internal time-keeping method, even though I was not a mother. Mine went more like, “When I was with Alfred…or Louie…or Rupert…” (Names changed to protect the innocent.) Beyond my school years, I realized, I chronicled the eras of my life by the particular relationships I was in at the time. Not so different, really.
The idea of defining one’s self by a patchwork of prehistoric and external activities or relationships, though, got me thinking. Who was I without them? Who am I, separate from the myriad forms of outer description: wife-of…works-for…rents-from…member-of…body-type-like…ex-girlfriend-of…draws-like…etc., etc.? Who am I, first thing in the morning as consciousness returns, but before the definitions return to clothe me more tightly than a spandex leotard? Who am I without my face?
The Buddhists have always written extensively about that big question, and Zen Buddhism is perhaps the most accessible entry into this area of contemplation. They refer to it as the Original Face, and it originates in the following koan: “What did your face look like before your parents were born?”
You cannot describe it or draw it,
You cannot praise it enough or perceive it.
No place can be found in which
To put the Original Face;
It will not disappear even
When the universe is destroyed.
My original face is That which observes ‘the little me’…sitting here in this wicker chair, warmed by a wood stove and peppermint tea, typing. I don’t know what That is yet…but I am beginning to understand what it is not…
“Frankenstein” (pen & ink) Illustration for a hospital advertisement: “Endoscopic surgery. Because not everyone can live with another scar.”
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