Drawing Out the Soul

Mr. President, this morning I’m looking out the window of my bedroom. Snow covers the hillside. White lines of birch trees stand out against the woods. I hear our rooster, who must believe he invented dawn. Two crows are passing over and I am thinking of my students, those who inspire me by their example, whose powers our world needs.

I remember how, yesterday morning, one of them came into school, excited as always. Every morning, it seems, he’s spent some potion of the previous evening learning something new. He’s that rare and valuable childone with an insatiable desire to learn all that there is to learn.

Dishes are clattering in the kitchen as the kids do morning clean-up. Will is at the trout tank, monitoring the water quality—it’s got to be right, because we have 112 eggs we are hatching. Oscar is in the entry way, sweeping up the dirt and snow we’ve tracked in.

“Guess what? Guess what?” Ben asks.  “I learned a new word last night! Do you know what ‘meraki” means?”

“No, I don’t. It sounds Japanese”

“No, it’s Greek. It means to do something with your whole soul. Like, whatever you do, you do it with love.”

Like a little kid angling for a treat, he finishes: “Can I write the definition on the board?”

“Of course.” He uses my computer to find the exact definition, and writes it out on the board.


Earlier in the week we had paired them up. The assignment had been to draw each other with as much soul and love as possible.

“Put your whole soul into it, and try to draw out their soul in the drawing. We don’t care if you draw well or not or if it even looks like your partner. Just make their soul appear.”

They had drawn for forty-eight minutes before we had to stop. As everyone else crowded up the stairs for lunch, Henry Wagner still sat at the table, hunched over his sheet of paper. He was drawing Rosemary.  Eventually I collected the drawings and stacked them until the next time we could work on them.


After Ben told us about meraki, I watched the students through the morning, looking for examples of the concept. I wanted to see how, or if, we practiced it.

After lunch Henry came to me. He was holding his picture of Rosemary.

“Tal, I took this off the pile so I could finish it. I’m trying to perfect it. But I’m struggling with the freckles.”

“The freckles look fine. But she needs a neck, and a shirt collar.  Put some shadow under her chin. And up here on her cheek.” I showed him, making a few light marks on the sheet. He took the drawing back and went off to work some more.

After class he came to me. “Tal, this is the most proud of a drawing I’ve ever been.” He was beaming.

I looked down at the final drawing. It was not perfect, but there was no doubt it was Rosemary. He had captured her and her soul.

“That’s great, Henry.”

His constancy, attention, and relentlessness was his soul in action. He had made Rosemary appear in the world, or at least in our school, and that was a soul we could use.

I left his drawing on the top of the pile, so the both of them would be there, looking up all week.


Author: talbirdsey

I am writing a postcard to the President everyday.

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