Sketching Memories

On my iPhone, I have 33,250 photos.

Yesterday, when reading Janusz Korczak’s Ghetto Diary, I came across a section in which Korczak is conversing with a well-known painter who says to him:

“Everyone should know how to sketch in pencil what he wants to retain in memory. Not to be able to do that is to be illiterate.”

I read this sentence over and over again, and thought about it. I have 33,250 photos on my phone and only one of them is, in fact, an image of something I sketched in pencil.

I could dismiss this as irrelevant since, as the image shows, I don’t have much of a knack for drawing. However, that quotation is too emphatic to dismiss. Even Korczak admitted, “How often did I recollect this irrefutable truth.”

My sketch is of the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance atop an altar outdoors adorned with candles and flowers all beneath white canopies in a Krakow park during World Youth Day 2016 in Poland. A young man is kneeling, a woman is sitting cross-legged with her hands folded in prayer, and, in the distance, a priest is hearing a confession.

What does it say that I sketched this, of all things? First, as Korcazk’s painter said, it suggests some desire I had to retain the memory. But then why not a photograph? Perhaps it was the intimacy of the scene – that a photograph would have seemed to violate. Perhaps it is an indication of the moment’s preciousness in my life.

To sketch is to observe without any mediation. There is a directness in making eye contact with reality, unobstructed by a camera. To sketch is to determine that something is worthy of attention. It is an act of selectivity.

By the standard’s of Korczak’s painter, I am very much illiterate. Yet I am thankful to him for alerting me to these reflections, which made me find the single sketch amid 33,250 photos.

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