Portrait of a Shriveled Saint

Seeing myself "keine Gnade," without grace, haunts me.

Willi Ossa was an artist who worked as a janitor at night in a church on New York's West Side to support his wife and infant daughter. During the day he painted. German by birth, Willi grew up during the war years and then married an American girl, the daughter of an officer in the occupying army. I got to know Willi when I was a theological student working at the same church as an assistant pastor.

Willi liked to talk about religion; I liked to talk about art. We became friends. We got along well together and had long conversations. He decided to paint my portrait. I went to his house on West 92nd Street a couple of afternoons a week on my way to work at the church and sat for thirty minutes or so for my portrait. He never permitted me to see what he was painting. Day after day, week after week, I sat while he painted. One day his wife came into the room and looked at the portrait now nearing completion and exclaimed in outrage, "Krank, krank." I knew just enough German ...

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