“Imagine you’re in a room, a large room, decorated however you like. It’s your space. Now you notice that around the walls there are pictures. Looking closer, you see that these are portraits of people who have been important to you, people who have inspired you and touched your life. Think about who is on your walls. They are with you, a part of who you are…” - a supervisor in my program.
When I was given this exercise to do, an image of the headmaster’s office at Hogwarts leapt to mind. Granted, I altered it a bit, gave it a deep burgundy plush carpet, put in some big, cozy armchairs and added a few more bookshelves, but it was a large office with a big napping couch in the corner. And, as I was instructed, portraits covered the walls. They were too numerous to fit in a single line at eye level, so there were several rows with many, many pictures. However, while the supervisor only imagined still images, the room I imagined has Hogwarts paintings: pictures that can move and talk. The people who have influenced my life aren’t just silent memories, they are vibrant individuals who still affect the ways I think, act, and express myself.
There are people with great wisdom. These are teachers, relatives, people I know from church. They are people who share wisdom born of experience and reflection and steeped in years of living. Some are verbose, composed speakers, while others speak softly and say only a few words, yet they all have an impact, all have made a difference in my life.
There are people who provide incredible support. They are the people whose love and care give me the confidence to face the world each day. As I realized last year, I have been able to travel far away and do things that seem brave only because I knew that there were people, however far away, who were standing by me and cheering me on. These are the folks who see the best parts of me, even when I cannot recognize them myself.
There are the true friends, though some of them also happen to be blood relations. These are the people who are deeply attached in my heart that I cannot imagine my life without their influence. We have shared such intense experiences and conversations that they have molded my identity.
And then there are the challenges. People whose portraits I would not have chosen to include on my walls, but whose presence in my life has so altered me that I cannot leave them out. These are often people I dislike, people who have hurt me, but who have taught me invaluable lessons. I have been thinking a lot about those people lately, reflecting on things they said and ways they wounded me, and about the ways I have grown through healing from them. These are the people who called me names, shattered my dreams, tore apart my confidence, and criticized the deepest parts of me. Yet, from them I have developed a strength and resilience that is essential to me now. And so, they, too, are present in this room, impacting my life and identity. Most of those portraits are silent now, like Muggle photographs in the wizarding world, they cannot speak or move.
So as I continually refine my identity and redecorate that space, the portraits remain. I consult them when I’m struggling, think about what different people might have done or said, how they might have advised me. Sometimes the portraits inspire me to call the actual people they portray, but often they are just a reminder, a perspective or bit of wisdom to be considered. Many of them probably have no idea that they have such a place of honor, such an influence. They likely go through their days without knowing how grateful I am to have known them.
Max Lucado once wrote that if God had a refrigerator, our pictures would be on it. I don’t know about that, but I do know that your portrait is on someone’s wall somewhere, and probably on mine, too.