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I had just been back to Canada to help my mother move from our old house, the house that I was born in, and that I had called home for almost fifty years. For weeks my dreams had been filled with images of my home, that faraway place I left long ago. Thousands of miles away in a different land, and yet when I closed my eyes it was there, inside me. Strange. Wonderful. Home: there is my mother and father, the old house, my climbing tree, the river. My students come from all over the world and for most it’s their first real separation from home. I wondered if they too could see their homes inside themselves.
I wanted them to be completely natural, without any pretence or attitude, so I didn’t tell them of my idea beforehand. It was simply another day of drawing class. One by one I asked them to step into another room, where I had set up the camera, and then I said: "Look at me—without emotion—good." And then I said: "Now close your eyes and think of home." No time to put on make-up, comb hair, look into a mirror.
I was an external thing, something outside that comes into the eye. They looked at me, a real person in time and space, though each may have seen me in a different way. Although I asked them to look at me without emotion, I could see shades of moods in their eyes and their mouths: curiosity, shyness, defiance. I am their teacher, after all.
When they closed their eyes I no longer existed. Within a few moments they were someplace else. In a different world. Neither I nor my camera could see that world, and although in the end I was tempted to ask them what they had seen, I never did. Each had their own private home that was theirs alone. But what I did see was a change in expression as they moved from looking outside to looking inside. Their journey inside, their "inwardness," was reflected on their faces as a subtle but clear spirituality that I had never witnessed before. In some faces the change was hardly perceptible, but in most I saw the change and I knew that they were home: a tilting of the head, a softening of the expression, a gentle smile. They became angelic in a way. I thought of Renaissance and Pre-Raphaelite paintings, but these seemed less marvellous than my students now.
Some remained standing with their eyes closed longer than others, but eventually the spell was broken and they came back to earth. Their eyes opened, but now with a certain peacefulness that perhaps hadn’t been there before.
We all carry home within us.