A self-portrait

Cheer up, dear people in the world with noses you don't like, ears too big or too little, faces you wonder what on earth you did to deserve. Lift your chins off your chests. The tears in your eyes, wipe them away, and let a smile come out from behind your cloudy hearts. I'm going to do a self-portrait for you. I'm going to show you the person I've made peace with -- and if I with my raggle- taggle, then surely you with yours.

My head, that fruit of me, is moon-round, but slightly flat on top, like a Halloween pumpkin. And it is all sorts of colors. Pink about the cheekbones, yellow about the ears, white about the nose and mouth, and light brown in the beard and hair. Horticulturists, if they dared, might venture to describe it as a sort of funny-farm fruit.

Once I had eyebrows thicker and more brooding than those of Montgomery Clift, the late actor. Now I have two skinny caterpillars that are constantly wiggling. In life, many parts of us simply wander off through the garden gate, so to speak, and we just have to learn to live with what remains.

My eyes are big, bleary-blue, and bloodshot-red. The right one is a little higher than the left; my great-grandfather, was said to have had a similar "rough-hewn look." People shorter than I have had difficulty adjusting to this tiltedness, sometimes going up on one foot and then the other, and cocking their heads this way and that, to achieve true alignment. But I have always been grateful for my tiltedness. It's nice, I think, to have one eye on the inessential things below and another on the essential ones above. It helps me from being too great a realist, or a dreamer.

My nose, having been pulled countless times by friends, attempting to restore my melancholy countenance to humor, has given up all pretensions to perpendicularity. It is crooked, long, and nasty-tempered, a strange fellow, really -- a kind of cross between a sore loser and a stingy winner. It wants an apology from the sticks and stones of life, but it doesn't want to risk getting any crookeder. Someday I think it may just run away and live oblivious to the world, with children, dreams, and books.

And my mouth is wide and mortal, but, smiling, it likes to sing tongue-in-cheek songs like "David, old word cleaver/How you do go on!"

So there you have it, this face of mine, in the merciful paint of words. Modest reason tells me that it must betoken some wisdom, for otherwise wouldn't the rest of me have slipped away long ago? And wisdom is better than beauty.

Like all human faces, mine is just another player in the old drama of the heart, and it wears many masks. Masks of fear, loneliness, laughter, grief, and love. Like all such masks, it joins forces with illusion to fo ol not only time , but itself.

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