Life is cyclical. We revisit the same instances, the same questions in our paths, but from new perspectives. I came across these recently in my studio and portfolios from high school.
The first image was a book-report project from my summer reading one year. I read "Silas Marner," by George Eliot. For those who don't know, Eliot was a woman, who wrote under a male pen name in order to be taken seriously. In her novel, a child conceived out of wedlock is discarded and left on Marner's doorstep. A miser in the same tradition of Ebenezer Scrooge, he finds fulfillment in the golden haired child he is gifted to adopt and raise by Providence.
The second painting is one I did for a Pro-life student art and writing contest, conducted by the Tennessee Right to Life. Years later, I would be invited back as a judge for the same contest (again, noting how interestingly cyclical life can be). In my simpler high school minded creativity, the best I could muster to depict abortion was a potential baby lost, the absence, the shadow of a baby that was killed instead of allowed to be held in his or her parents hands. I won the contest for which I had entered. If I remember correctly, there weren't many participants that year, however by the time I was invited back as a judge, it had clearly gained in popularity due to the much larger submission size.
Why is this cyclical to me? Because the first image of Marner's adopted child, Eppie, is the spitting image of my first child. She has golden curls, and she has a personality that draws everyone to her, like the beautiful girl in Eliot's novel. As I write this, she is in nearly the same position asleep, as I depicted that fictional child over 15 years ago. Meanwhile, the second work, painted 2 years later, the same spacing we had intended for our first two children, is the spitting image of my miscarried child, Alex. While my husband and I never intended abortion, as we view it as a violation of everything sacred about human life, Alex died inside of me this past summer, at about 8.5 weeks growth and we faced what we never thought we would: the loss of a child during pregnancy. As a result we had to go through the process of my body clearing out the remains, and we grieved, realizing there was a child we would never, never, in any real way, get to hold. There is a palpable ache present, that is now so much more pronounced in that second painting.
These paintings, completed before I was really Pro-Life, when I was still a very young artist with no real direction, who mostly drew pictures of actors I crushed on in my sketchbooks, and cartoon characters like Jigglypuff decorated my doodles in my textbooks, somehow link to today, and the artist I am now. I am fully Pro-Life. I realize the baby-shadow in the image I painted in high school isn't just a potential child, but the representation of an actual lost child, having now lost one myself. I now understand juxtaposed against an image of abortion, why Eppie is so fortunate, why she is such a treasure, not only as the salvation of Silas Marner, but also for her own sake as a child spared from death, instead given the alternative of adoption. I have had a conversion stretching further back than 15 years. I have so many people and events responsible for that gradual transition, most especially my husband, and the experiences we have shared together. I am a better person, a more loving and compassionate person, because I can now understand what the Pro-Lifers from my high school and college years were so passionate about.
I painted the portrait of Eppie from Silas Marner for a grade. I painted the depiction of a lost baby through abortion for a prize. But here they are now, as portraits of my two children that I have had so far, one that made it to beautiful fruition, and the other we remember and for which we grieve. I have come across the same intersection in my life, but from a new path that has wound and doubled back, giving me a glimpse into how I have grown both as an artist, and as a person.
Sonia Jackson Summers