The Eye Of The Beholder
Between the two windows on the east wall, an oil painting caught the eye of everyone who entered the room. This was certainly no ordinary portrait. And it hung in an equally unusual setting. These nursing-home quarters barely had space for two beds, two chests of drawers and two desks. The huge painting filled its place on the wall from top to bottom and from side to side. But more than its size struck the viewer.
The woman in the portrait wore a dark taffeta gown that matched her hair and eyes. She had to be bigger than life size, and I couldn't take my eyes off her face. It was those eyes. Eyes looked back at me as if they were alive. If I moved, they followed me. I couldn't escape them and I was riveted in place as if a chain linked my eyes with hers.
"My husband painted that." A slight touch on my elbow startled me and tore my eyes from the portrait just long enough to acknowledge the fragile-looking woman at my side. "Of course, I was much younger, then."
She chuckled, recalling years long gone. "It was in the old country. We were still sweethearts when he did this painting." Together, the old woman and I stood, side by side, looking up at this remarkable work of art.
"I've never seen anything like this in all my life. Your husband must have been a famous artist." I'm sure the woman recognized the awe in my voice.
"Actually," she replied, "he never sold a single painting."
I turned to stare at her. "You're kidding!" I stopped, cold. Stunned, I was looking into the same glowing brown eyes as those in the painting.
"Oh, it isn't that he didn't want to be able to make a living as an artist. His sketch book was full of faces, many of them mine. But, his father needed his help with the farm work, and he was a good son. He did give some of his paintings as gifts to family and friends. The rest I couldn't bear to part with, especially after he was gone."
My eyes went back to the portrait. "How did he paint those eyes like that? They seem to be looking right at me, and they follow me when I move from right to left and back again. It's as if they're alive. I can't get over it!"
"Well, you see, we were so much in love." Her voice grew even softer, and more distant, as if she had slipped back in time to her youth. "Of course, we couldn't take our eyes off each other. It was such a joy, posing for him. I could fill my eyes with his presence, watching him work. He was so much more than just handsome. He was just.....wonderful."
I turned to see tears on her cheek glistening in the morning sun. Gently, I wrapped my arm around her shoulders. "That is such a beautiful story, sweetheart. What a blessing you had, finding such a love. You know, not everyone gets a chance like that in a whole life time."
The old woman with the beautiful eyes looked up at me. "I know that, dearie. God gave me a brief glimpse of His own glory in the few years my Nels and I had together." She reached into her pocket for a handkerchief. "It wasn't long, but it was deep enough to last me all these ninety-one years."
As I reluctantly left the room to return to my duties, I took one last glance at the eyes that followed me to the door. My thoughts settled on the gifted artist. It had to be the love of the man for his subject that created such a tribute. Evidence of that bond still burned with enough power to touch a stranger long years after the paint was dry.
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