It Is About Bearing Witness.
"A good friend of mine said, 'You are married to sorrow.' And I looked at him and said, "I am not married to sorrow. I just choose not to look away."
And I think there is deep beauty in not averting our gaze.
No matter how hard it is, no matter how heartbreaking it can be. It is about presence.
It is about bearing witness.
I used to think bearing witness was a passive act. I don't believe that anymore. I think that when we are present, when we bear witness, when we do not divert our gaze, something is revealed—the very marrow of life. We change. A transformation occurs. Our consciousness shifts.
—Terry Tempest Williams
Three days ago, I painted a portrait of Captain George Roque of Los Angeles on my last page of The Art of the Deal. On Wednesday, January 6, 2020, I posted it on my social media and website with the last five pages.
It was a strange moment. The U.S. Capitol had been overrun by a mob incited by the man who would be king. I had completed the first step of a project I started in late April. Societal chaos and personal satisfaction tangled up in a mess of emotions.
I didn’t know what to expect when I started posting my portraits 75 days ago. But I was completely unprepared for gratitude.
I cannot tell you how many conversations I’ve had with family members mourning their loved ones who are simply relieved someone sees their grief, that someone took the time to read about their loved one, that someone wanted to know something more than a number.
It is heartbreaking.
We have done a terrible thing to every person who has lost someone to Covid-19. We, as a society, have left them isolated and alone. We have left their sorrow unacknowledged. We have left their loss ignored. And we have left them on their own to figure out how to memorialize each beautiful and deeply loved person lost.
I can’t paint them all. It took me six and a half months, painting nearly every day to paint 241 pages and 274 people. It would take me over 407 years to paint the 371,815 people we have lost through Wednesday and an additional 196 years to paint the ones we are projected to lose by the anniversary of the San Francisco lockdown.
We owe those lost, and those left behind, so much more.
We can do better. We must do better.
We must choose not to avert our gaze.