Sunday, February 3, 2013

"We Must Labour to Be Beautiful"

“To be born woman is to know—

Although they do not talk of it at school—

That we must labour to be beautiful”

--Adam’s Curse, William Butler Yeats

When Yeats wakes me up at 6:30 am on a Sunday, I have to acknowledge that—even though nothing here is really all that original, and as usual it’s too long…but it woke me up this morning. So here goes.

In the last week or so I have had many striking encounters with beauty in the midst of lots of not beautiful. The mind-numbing context of our family’s daily realities can’t be denied, and I hate referencing it so often here (and I leave out an awful lot), but it truly covers every aspect of every day of our lives like a blanket of deep snow, cold and painful. Still, to paraphrase Superchick, there is beauty in pain.

Not that any of these things are PRETTY. Nothing about pediatric oncology or its effects on a family are PRETTY. But the warrior children I know are beautiful, 1000%.

Oh, the difference between pretty and beautiful. As a teen, like so many other teens, I so desperately wanted to be pretty , in those days LOooooooong before Zoey Deschanel made “adorkable” even a concept. Back then, it was just dorky. Meh. Today, kids are relentlessly bombarded with plastic representations of “pretty”—I get so irritated with the tv shows that reinforce the impression that ALL 7th graders have fabulous wardrobes and perfect hair and makeup—the pressure is worse now than ever. And even us older folk are constantly shown “real” people who are desperately aiming for pretty all the time through endless pursuits of botox and bigger bosoms and bedazzling.

( thanks to Kathy & Michelle who inspired that burst of alliteration) 

Don’t get me wrong; I love fashion, I haven’t been naturally brunette in 10 years, and hey, if you want to de-wrinkle via injections, go for it—but it’s not the key to happiness or the way we as women have to be defined. Now that I am old (and wrinkly, it’s true), I know that pretty ain’t gonna happen, and that’s ok, because really, does it matter? But maybe I can ”labour to be beautiful”… the real kind of beautiful…

BEAUTY is so deep, and so broad in scope. Beauty is powerful. Not to diss the Bible (I am so not dissing the Bible), but TRUE beauty isn’t fleeting. Beauty really does come from within. Beauty is mighty.

A week or so ago I read about a beautiful baby, a baby named   Pearl Joy Brown  who has a rare, unpronounceable disorder that may very well cut her life short. The fact that she survived to be born is something of a miracle, and the miracle of her life only makes her more beautiful. I was so struck with her beauty and her parents’ story of choosing hope in the face of overwhelmingly grim statistics—not an unrealistic hope of miraculous cure, not a denial of how dark some of their days are, or how precarious Pearl’s life is, but a hope that love and the inherent dignity of every human life would prevail no matter WHAT the medical outcome for Pearl. I shared Pearl’s story with my students as we talked about ethics and life issues in class…and how honoring the humanity of every child, healthy or no, special needs or no, is always beautiful, even as some days it is painful and brutally hard .

With some of the materials we covered in class this week, I also remembered again the intense beauty of Mother Teresa—that teeny tiny Albanian nun whose ministry of love transformed (and continues to transform ) the lives of so many people around the world. Mother Teresa is beautiful because of her words and ideas and her work, her love in the midst of the spiritual desert that no one knew of in her lifetime. I only got to see Mother Teresa once in my life, and even as a teen, I knew as soon as I saw her that I was in the presence of a saint, someone whose generosity of spirit and CHOICE to love changed the world. She literally had an aura of beauty and quiet power, she radiated love. 25 years later, I have not forgotten what that was like, to experience being in her presence, even from afar…

And yesterday…I saw pictures of a friend, glamorous, gorgeous photos of a friend who after years of battling the same medical demons with her daughter that we fight with our daughter (and with significant other complications), has had to enter her own battle with cancer.

Yes, THAT was a moment in which God heard a lot of unprintables from me. Multi-syllabic combinations of extremely unprintable words used as every part of speech. I used to teach grammar, trust me, I hit Every. Part. Of. Speech.

Anyway, my friend is through chemo, and her teen daughter, an extremely talented photographer, took these pictures…

The most beautiful, breathtaking pictures of a woman I have seen in a long time.  And this is only one of a half dozen equally amazing shots.

photo credit Allie Broeniman.
Yes, her momma is gorgeous, and Allie has mad skillz.

Pure beauty on digital film. A beautiful woman who HAS “labored to be beautiful”—not by putting on makeup (although her makeup looks great), not by finding a wig (she doesn’t need one, she rocks bald like nobody’s business), but by LIVING. By just embracing the miracle of life each day as it comes.
These powerful images of grace, and humor, and grit, and toughness ARE beautiful in the traditional sense—she looks fabulous—but they are SO DEEP. This beauty pours out of my friend from every…um, pore. These are victory shots, because these photos show a woman who has triumphed in this moment over extreme adversity, with the love of her family, the support of her friends, and the grace of God.

You may have heard the roar—she is woman, and these photos celebrate the genuine beauty of what that means. Dang, I am blessed to be her friend.

In these days where I feel mentally like a shriveled crabby crone (think Miracle Max’s wife from Princess Bride—that’s what I feel like), I have to try and reach for the beauty that we get each day. Every day, every chance to take another breath—beauty. I have to draw inspiration from these examples of beauty and figure out how to channel that EVERY DAY.

It’s a labour (yes, with the extra u—it is way more than a labor without a u to embrace the beauty in each day), that is for sure. Now to figure out how to do it…beauty isn't passive, it's's decisions and choices and living each day.

And THAT is what woke me up too early on a Sunday morning. The End...or really...another beginning...

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