I packed a lunch for my oldest son today. I literally can’t even remember the last lunch I packed for him. But today was his first day of work…a real job…manual labor. Packing that lunch and sending him off on his own made me realize that even though on one hand, I’m counting down the number of days until I can send him on his way, I’m still holding onto him tightly with the other. Even though he daily makes me want to scream, I don’t relish the thought of anyone in the “real world” doing the same. I’m not a hoverer or a very tender mom. I even feel a little calloused at time compared to other moms I know. But today was hard. It was hard to bite my tongue and not give advice. It was hard to not worry. It was hard turning him over to someone else who I know will (thankfully) make his life very physically challenging. Ultimately it was hard to let him go and recognize that this is how men like his father are made…through hard work and hard knocks, through trial and error, falling down and getting up. And none of that involves me holding his hand any more. Just like that, my time with him has shifted and it is time for me to step back and lead from behind instead of in front, to teach through listening and silence instead of repetition of words. Dropping him off, I felt the urge to reach out and grab his hand for old times’ sake, but refrained as common sense warned against it. So I just watched him walk away without looking back, swallowed a little lump in my throat and drove away, alone with my thoughts and empty handed. Who knew what a little sack lunch could do…
I’ve spent the last few months with blinders on…not the blindfold type of blinders that prevent you from seeing, but more like the type they put on horses to keep them focused on what is ahead of them. Life all of a sudden got really hard, and really good, and really busy, all at the same time. Kind of like a whirlwind introduction to teenagers, owning your own business, husband starting a business kind of boot camp. I laugh/cringe because this is just the way I operate…when things get hard, I get small and go inward. When I was delivering my first son, I basically kicked everyone out (and down the hall so I couldn’t even hear their voices), and my poor husband who took all those crazy classes with me didn’t even have a chance to put his newfound knowledge to work from his chair in the corner. I had to be fully alone and present with myself to focus and complete the task at hand. So I’ve spent the last few months in my “internal cocoon…” possibly socially isolated and emotionally withdrawn, although I don’t know how I appear to others. I haven’t been upset, I’ve just had to focus on getting through a challenging time and I do my best work alone.
I planned and pushed with fervency to wrap up as many jobs as possible so that I could be home with my kids for the summer. And then…it was summer. But to my complete surprise (and delight), the summer that normally devours me like a consuming tornado, has meandered in peacefully and silently, observed by the wonderful cessation of marking time and checking off to-do lists. I did reverse psychology on myself by getting so busy, that summer now seems slow in comparison (I must be smarter than I thought to be able to trick myself)! My oldest boys literally fish from sun-up to sun-down and my daughter is in Florida helping family. I have gone from having 5 seemingly co-dependent children to feeling like I only have 2! My days have transitioned from non-stop movement, to coffee (with refills!) on the patio in the company of a good book.
Throughout the course of the last few months, I am reminded that the struggles and busy-ness of life can function as a splinter. They can cause irritation and sometimes outright pain, but the second they are removed, the relief gives way to a newfound joy and appreciation. Although I am a regrettably slow learner, I am beginning to posses with certainty the belief that every stage of life is good (even the hard ones) and can offer new opportunities for gratitude. I have loved being busy and creative and working, but I also love letting my brain rest and “just” being a mom. We can go through life, constantly looking anxiously ahead to the next phase, or we can learn to suck the marrow out of the here and now. I have done plenty of looking ahead. I long to improve upon cherishing the present.
I am also (finally) beginning the grasp the importance of living seasonally. Earlier in life, I strived and worked incessantly. I felt lazy if I stopped to rest. Yet when we frantically press on and on (even in positive, fun times) without diversity or change in pace, we quickly run out of steam and live a dreary life of monotony. There must be times of ebb and flow, work and rest, tears and laughter, suffering and joy. I am learning to heed and embrace the literal seasons of nature for life cues…the long, slow spread of summer days, the solitude and silence of winter, the invigoration of spring and the calming crispness of fall. I’m even attempting to eat seasonal foods to provide for varying physical needs throughout the year. I’m trying to fight less against life, and instead receive with open hands of gratitude each twist of events that life presents. In doing so, I am learning to trust more deeply and authentically. Hindsight is always 20/20 and the longer I live, the more I can look back over the threads of time to see how my life is being expertly woven. I am seeing with greater clarity that I can breathe and lean fully into a life of trusting God, nature, and myself.
Living seasonally is nothing new. It is, in fact, ancient and old and wise. I, however am not. But perhaps through the symbiotic relationship of internal intuition and nature’s external prompting, I can settle in to a rhythmic sort of journey that will lead to a full, healthy and long existence. Life is hard. But it’s also really, really beautiful. I want to make the CHOICE to savor the sweetness of life, instead of dwelling on it’s bitter moments. Cheers to summer…
I have wanted to publish a book for a long time… not a book with words or even illustrations. Just a book of photographs. I would call it, “The Many Faces of Autism.” In this book, I would chronicle what autism in our house looks like on a day to day basis – the good, the bad and the ugly.
Most likely, I will never get around to a book of any sort. But as it is Autism Awareness month, I’ve felt the need to do something to honor Autism, honor Grayson, and honor our journey that we’ve been on together. I have put together a mini sampling of photographs (click on photos for descriptions). Maybe this is something that only a mother can appreciate. I really don’t know.
What I do know, is that sorting through these pictures has resurfaced so many emotions – sheer joy and pride, and grieving all over again at the hard reminders. I remember the early fits and craziness, countless doctor appointments, and the constant helplessness that never left my side. I remember peeking through the preschool window to see him pulling his hair and rocking, all of his frantic fears…plastic bags and umbrellas in the wind, the fear that someone would eat his food, touch his bellybutton, etc…etc…etc… I remember crying the day that he ate his last Krispy Creme doughnut, knowing that a super restrictive diet was to start the next day, as we tried to heal his bleeding ulcers and bacterial gut infection. This “diet” would kept me up until 3 a.m. trying to figure out what in the world to feed him and learning 1,000,000 new terms for allergens. I remember never being more than 5 minutes from his school and the way my heart would race every time my phone rang. I remember the screaming, sometimes hours on end, and feeling like death would be a welcome relief.
However, in spite of all of the heartache, what I mainly see when I take a bird’s eye view of these photographs is…GROWTH! In the midst of the day to day fits and agitations and 50 TRILLION QUESTIONS, I can easily forget just how far he has come from the little boy that he once was. These pictures serve as a sharp probe to remind me to count my blessings. Sadly, I have gotten lost in my own agitation and impatience. I have started seeing failures instead of successes, and I have forgotten how to laugh with Grayson and find compassion for him in his struggles. I have forgotten that he is funny and sweet and smart and creative! And in all of this forgetting, I have forgotten that although I may be tired, I am not a mean and angry, old and haggard witch (how I feel at the end of so many days). I have forgotten that it’s ok to laugh and smile. I have forgotten so, so much. I have a lot of remembering to do, and quite honestly, this overwhelms me. What if I cannot remember how to get back from where I came? Perhaps I have never even been “there” and need to forge a new path?? But then I think of Grayson and all that he has overcome and become, what we have become together. And I know that I can, and that I will, get where I need to go.
Maybe this is the beauty of photographs. They capture moments that trigger memories. And though not immediately apparent, when viewed from afar, we are able to see that which was missed standing close up. So, without further ado, I am happy to share, “The Many Faces of Autism…”
(Grouped into the following categories…Obsessions, Firsts, Sad Times, Progressive Photograph-ability, Sleeping Anywhere, Crazy Moments, Precious Moments and my Favorite Notes from Grayson)
“My dad told me this once. For a wheat seed to come fully into its own, it must become wholly undone. The shell must break open, its insides must come out, and everything must change. If you didn’t understand what life looks like, you might mistake it for complete destruction.”
-The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp-
I haven’t written lately because I haven’t had much to say. And because some thoughts take longer to gestate than others. Sometimes life has a way of washing over you like the ocean wave you didn’t see coming and suddenly, you’re not thinking in words, you’re just trying to figure out which way is up and how to find your breath again. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like the older I get, the more I have to fight to hang on to hope and not give in to cynicism. I have to work harder to see the glass half full instead of half empty. I worry more than I ever have. With the way the world is and a house full of present and upcoming teenagers, I recognize how much I stand to lose and how little control I possess. And I just don’t have enough…enough patience, enough energy, enough love. Many days feel like a battle, a monotonous drudgery at best. And I become frustrated with myself that I can’t be more upbeat, less of a Debbie Downer, more like someone else, anyone else…
However, what I am being reminded of, is that there is no one who escapes life without struggle. It is a part of the cycle of life. Even if we lived in a utopian world, we would war within ourselves. But like a forgotten memory I am starting to recall a time when I knew better…a time when I was able to hold suffering in greater esteem. Like birth pain, the struggle is more intense when you fight it, when you try to eradicate it. I have forgotten that the best way to deal with pain is to breathe and lean into it, remembering that pain can give birth to breathtaking beauty.
I guess the last few months have left me feeling a bit like a wheat seed…like my outer layer has been has been smashed open, my insides spewed carelessly about. And it kind of feels like complete destruction. But perhaps, if I can learn to accept all of life with grace, humility and gratitude, this “destruction” can be the springboard into new life. The Orthodox church has a saying, “Out of death springs life.” They serve boiled wheat at funerals and memorial services to physically remind people that death is not the end. It is a good reminder that sometimes we need to be “undone” before we can become “done.” And like the smallest sprout, I feel hope start to grow again. Although pain is not something I feel the need to seek out, I also can feel the frantic need to escape it seeping away. As wind and water can erode granite, so can pain shape and wear away my rough edges. Sometimes it feels like life cracks us wide open to pain. But perhaps, it is cracking us open to healing, breaking us so that we can live life fully. I hope and pray that my soul will settle in, lean in, and learn to graciously accept all that comes to me with peace of soul and the firm conviction that all is sent to me for my benefit.
“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies…”
“Individuals, like nations, must have suitable broad and natural boundaries, even a considerable neutral ground, between them. I have found it a singular luxury to talk across the pond to a companion on the opposite side. In my house we were so near that we could not begin to hear, we could not speak low enough to be heard; as when you throw two stones into calm water so near that they break each other’s undulations. If we are merely loquacious and loud talkers, then we can afford to stand very near together, cheek by jowl, and feel each other’s breath; but if we speak reservedly and thoughtfully, we want to be farther apart, that all animal heat and moisture may have a chance to evaporate. If we would enjoy the most intimate society with that in each of us which is without, or above, being spoken to, we must not only be silent, but commonly so far apart bodily that we cannot possibly hear each other’s voice in any case.”
~An Excerpt from Walden by Henry David Thoreau~
It has been said that words are the most base form of communication. In a time when everyone is concerned with finding their voice in the world, we forget the impact and importance of silence. When we speak constantly, people stop listening. Words that might be valuable, get lost in the sheer projectile volume. Life gets big and chaotic and turbulent and if we rise to challenge it, we immediately begin to get lost in the noise. This does not necessitate a passive, apathetic approach to life. Practically, we must rise to meet to whatever stands before us. But we cannot forget the value of first withdrawing into ourselves to subdue our inner turmoil. When life gets big, we must get small. If we mindlessly rush headfirst into pandemonium, we will only add to the cacophony and delirium. We feel the need to say the right thing, do the right thing, and forget that silence is also a viable course of action. How many problems in life could potentially be solved by just stopping, and waiting in silence? The Tao Te Ching states that, “No one can make muddy water clear, but if one is patient, and it is allowed to remain still, it may gradually become clear of itself.” If we are able to resist the urge to constantly fill time and space with empty and urgent words, silence becomes not only an ideal choice but also a familiar and comforting companion as well.
We can make our minds so like still water
That beings gather about us that they may see,
It may be, their own images,
And so live for a moment with a clearer,
Perhaps even with a fiercer life
Because of our quiet.
~The Celtic Twilight by William Butler Yeats~
A study was conducted in 1967 by a man named Martin Seligman. In Part 1 of this study, three groups of dogs were placed in harnesses. Group 1 dogs were briefly put in a harnesses and then released. Groups 2 and 3 consisted of “yoked pairs”. Dogs in Group 2 were given electric shocks at random times, which the dog could end by pressing a lever. The dogs in Group 3 were connected to a Group 2 dog and received a shock whenever Dog 2 received its shock. However, the lever did not stop the shock for Dog 3. Thus, for Group 3 dogs, the shock was “inescapable”.
All dogs were later placed in a small box in which they would receive the same shock. Dogs from both groups 1 and 2 quickly jumped over a low partition to escape the shock. However, the group 3 dogs simply laid down because they had learned that they could neither control nor end the shocks.
Our culture has become like the dogs of Group 3. We are being shocked over and over and we too, have learned that the shocks are inescapable. School shootings, bombings, acts of terror and suicides no longer shock us. They have become common. Social media and the internet have taken over our children’s lives and “nudes,” and pornography have become not only common, but acceptable and even praised. Nothing is sacred. Sex has become more prevalent than a deep conversation and any sense of modesty has long been vanquished by oversexed bodies splashed across any possible avenue.
However, what we seem to have forgotten is that there is a difference between common and normal. Just because something happens with frequency does not mean that it is normal. Prostitution is common but it is certainly not normal behavior. We have forgotten that humans are created good, in the image of a Creator, and that it is the good that should be considered normative. We, like Group 3 dogs, have laid down in the midst of the pain. We have accepted the shocks as routine and no longer even look for a way out. I must admit that I do not see any readily apparent escape route from that which is “common” in our world. But I certainly refuse to look at any of the aforementioned issues as normal.
This age of tolerance which is good in many ways, has also caused us to turn a blind eye and accept much of what is unacceptable. I realize that there is no way to stop the “shocks,” but we can at least jump over the partition of resignation and try to live a life that seeks to regains true normalcy and right thinking. Although painful, I truly believe that it is better and more fully human to grieve and suffer through the shocks that to become desensitized and lay down in defeat.
**Spoiler alert – contains spoilers regarding the movie “A Monster Calls.” **
Over Christmas break, I took my kids to the movie, “A Monster Calls,” based on the New York Times Bestselling book. I had no expectations or understanding of what it was even about. That being said, I managed to cry my way through the last half of the movie. It is very rare that a movie grips my mind and thoughts long after the credits are through rolling. But this movie was so poignant and in my opinion, touched on the very struggle of what it means to be human.
The story is told of a young boy whose mother is facing cancer. He has a recurring nightmare in which he is holding onto his mother who is about to slip into an abyss and he cannot hold her any longer. The boy repetitively wakes up just as he loses grip and she begins to plummet. The long and short of the plot is that an ancient tree awakens and shares three stories and tells young Conor that after the third story, he will tell his story (nightmare) and will tell the truth of it. The following is an excerpt from the book. Forgive me for a lengthy quote but I cannot summarize in any way that would do it justice…
From A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
“Because, yes, Conor knew. He had always known. The truth. The real truth from the nightmare… ‘Please don’t make me,’ Conor said. ‘Please don’t make me say it.’ You let her go, the monster said. Conor closed his eyes tightly but then he nodded. You must speak the truth and you must speak it now, Conor O’Malley. Say it. You must. ‘It’ll kill me if I do,’ he gasped. It will kill you if you do not, the monster said. You must say it. You let her go. Why? And then he spoke the words. He spoke the truth. He told the rest of the fourth tale. ‘I can’t stand it anymore!’ he cried out as the fire raged around him. ‘I can’t stand knowing that she’ll go! I just wanted it to be over! I wanted it to be finished!’ And then the fire ate the world, wiping away everything, wiping him away with it. He welcomed it with relief, because it was at last the punishment he deserved.
‘It’s my fault,’ Conor said. ‘I let her go.’ It’s not your fault, the monster said, its voice floating in the air around him like a breeze. You were merely wishing for the end of pain, your own pain, and how it isolated you. It is the most human wish of all. ‘I didn’t mean it’ said Conor. You did, the monster said, but you also did not. Conor sniffed and looked up to its face which was as big as a wall in front of him. ‘How can both be true?’ Because humans are complicated beasts, the monster said. How can a queen be both a good witch and a bad witch? How can a prince be a murderer and a saviour? How can an apothecary be evil-tempered but right-thinking? How can a person be wrong-thinking but good-hearted? How can invisible men make themselves more lonely by being seen? ‘I don’t know,’ Conor shrugged, ‘Your stories never made any sense to me.’ The answer is that it does not matter what you think, the monster said, because your mind will contradict itself a hundred times each day. You wanted her to go at the same time you wanted me to save her. Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both. ‘But how do you fight it?’ Conor asked, his voice rough. ‘How do you fight all the different stuff inside? By speaking the truth, the monster said. As you spoke it just now. Conor thought again of his mother’s hands, of the grip as he let go ~ Stop this, Conor O’Malley, the monster said, gently. This is why I came walking, to tell you this so that you may heal. You must listen. You do not write your life with words, you write it with actions.”
The bare naked truth of the matter is that we all have secrets. Perhaps we have never actively done anything horrifically wicked, but we have all had thoughts that would mortify us if spoken out loud. I will be embarrassingly transparent regarding a personal example. One day, my son threw a fit and ran away and was threatening to run into a busy road. His fits are not uncommon, as a child with special needs, and it had been a particularly bad week. As he ran toward the street, the thought flashed through my mind that if I let him run and there was a fatal accident, my life would be so much easier. Of course I stopped him from running, yet I felt crushed under the weight of my hideous thought and punished myself internally for days. This is one of many reasons why the above scene absolutely pierced my heart. Anyone who has suffered or experienced grief also understands the desire for an end to pain, for an end to the isolation of it, for an end to the weariness of it. After that incident, I did some intense soul searching and demanded of myself to know how any decent mother could ever even allow the faintest of such thoughts to be entertained. I felt like a blasphemous cartoon character deserving of the proverbial lightning strike from the sky.
And so, many of us carry this needless guilt and shame. We begin to identify with these fleeting thoughts. We even may hate ourselves at times for thoughts we have, ways we have hurt others, and the supposed truth over who we are. But herein lies the problem. We are not the summation of our thoughts. We are complicated beasts, as the monster so aptly points out. It is possible to be wrong-thinking but good-hearted. Life does not seem to have the same problem with dualistic truths as we humans do. But we must learn to speak the truth. We must own our morbid thoughts. We must open up our dark, cobwebbed closets and let even the smallest aperture of light in.
Ultimately we must understand that the majority of our terrible thoughts do not stem from some deep-rooted wickedness within, but rather a wound that needs to be healed (“This is why I came walking, to tell you this so that you may heal.”). Our ugly thoughts, our rage, our embarrassing failures all serve as an indicator to show us where we are broken, where we are suffering, where we need mending. What good would it do to suture up an infected laceration? It would only fester and rot and cause further damage. This being the case, we still hide in shame rather than risk being exposed. And so, we suffer while smiling and silently endure our infected wounds. We would rather die than expose the truth.
However, if we will be brave enough to speak that which is unspoken, we will find peace and freedom. We will find that our thoughts, once uttered, become powerless over us. The shackles of guilt and self-chastisement will fall away and we will realize that our thoughts are simply…thoughts. They do not define us. They cannot control us. And then, we will reclaim the power to write our lives with our actions, instead of being tormented by our thoughts.
“Conor let out a long, long breath, still thick. But he wasn’t choking. The nightmare wasn’t filling him up, squeezing his chest, dragging him down. In fact, he no longer felt the nightmare at all…”
I’m sitting by the fire in my pajamas at 11:00 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Everyone is sleeping or gone. The smallest tinge of wistful sadness has settled in with the quieting of the house as I look back over the course of this year. There is a sense of finality with the passing of 2016…another year gone, completely unretrievable. My oldest will soon be driving on his own, we have no more babies in our home, and I am quickly approaching 40. Time seems to pass like a hurricane through my raking fingers and I am left gasping and grasping after something that refuses to be caught.
But my sadness is not over the passing of time, nor over the approach of teenagers or mid-life (as I am enjoying both). Rather it is a sadness over the ways that I have failed to encapsulate and cherish every moment of the last year. I grieve all of the times that irritability presided over gratitude. I regret every moment that I rushed through and missed, moments that will never be recovered. I especially and deeply mourn every unkind and impatient word I’ve wasted on my children (and there are many). In my mind, I so badly want to suck the marrow out of life and slowly savor every last bit but I so often fail to live this way.
I recognize the irony. With this being New Year’s Eve, it would be the perfect time to resolve to do things differently next year. But the fact of the matter is, I know that I won’t. I will make the same mistakes. I will fail…and succeed…and fail again. However, lest I be mistaken for a brooding pessimist, allow for a clarifcation. This cycle, in my humble opinion, is in fact the very essence of life and I believe it to be exceedingly beautiful. Life is a compilation of moments: heartaches and joys, peaks and valleys, tragedies and triumphs. Yet, when standing nose to nose with life, it is not always readily apparent which are the successes and which are the failures. It is foolish to bask in the glory of freshly fallen sparkling snow, and then curse the very same when it turns to sludge. So often, our darkest moments become our greatest success stories.
This is why I do not resolve to do anything differently in 2017. Rather, I resolve to do the same thing day-in and day-out, year after year. I resolve to accept defeat and success with gratitude, knowing that both are changing and shaping me. I resolve to put my best foot forward every morning, recognizing that my best may look different one day to the next. I resolve to accept the snow and the sludge, the sun and the sunburn, the rain and the flood (although I know I will not always accept them gracefully). Ultimately, I resolve to always struggle…to fall down and get back up and fall and get back up. It might take me a while to find my feet again, but I will get there…eventually. For it is in the struggle that we are strengthened and made whole. I wish you all good strength and a great journey…Happy New Year!
I have had some unanswered questions rambling around in my head for a while. Every time I sit down to write, they bother me. Sometimes they’re almost enough to make me give up. They are like a persistent child, knocking on the bathroom door and driving me crazy. This redundant mental interrogation asks of me, “What is the point of writing a blog? Why are you even doing this?”
It’s taken me a while, but I think I finally have the answer. This afternoon, I sat outside Target, seething, trying to wait out my son’s raging fit over absolutely nothing. I was pretending to not notice everyone’s curious stares, trying to look like a nice, patient mother, while wrestling with my not-nice and not-patient thoughts. I couldn’t go into the store, I couldn’t get him to the car, so I just sat on the wall outside of Target and tried to make friends with my anger and embarrassment.
Upon reflection, I realize how many “outsides” I’ve frequented over the course of his lifetime…outsides of churches, schools, restaurants, grocery stores…always at the end of the football field, closest to the exit door at basketball games. I have not made friends with parents or other adults because I knew I would never be able to sustain conversation. I don’t talk on the phone unless he’s in bed and I try to go to the fewest places possible when he is in tow. Please understand, I do not say this to complain or out of self-pity. Rather, this revelation has helped me to answer my own question…
I write because for the first time in literally ten years, I feel connected with the outside world. It makes me feel human and normal and not trapped in my own house. I feel like I can share protracted ideas with other adults and have the space to listen to responses. I write because like a man coming out of Plato’s allegorical cave into daylight, it is easier for me to write than to speak. I write because it is something that I can genuinely, albeit meagerly offer of myself. I write to leave a paper trail, so that if anything should ever happen to me, my children will know my heart and thoughts. Finally, I write for myself. When I write, time stops and my world gets small. It’s like reconnecting with a long lost friend…I have forgotten how much I love it.
So to anyone who has taken the time to read, and especially to comment, thank you. Thank you for helping me to not feel so isolated. Thank you for allowing me the privilege of hearing your thoughts and ideas. You will never know the gift you have given to me. With gratitude…
When my daughter was young we visited a women’s monastery. There was a young nun tending to the chickens. By all cultural standards, she was not pretty. Her face was broken out and scarred, she had thick glasses and braces. Her dark eyebrows formed a solid line, giving the appearance of a heavy, furrowed brow. However, she warmly invited my daughter to help feed the chickens. They chatted and laughed like old friends and when they were finished, my daughter casually remarked to me, “I hope I can be as pretty as she is some day.” Her statement stopped me dead in my tracks and pointed out my embarrassing and blaring inability to see true beauty.
I’ve been thinking a lot about beauty lately: not the Victoria’s Secret/Hollywood kind of beauty, or even the glowing sun setting over the mountains kind of beauty. I’ve been mulling over the idea of true beauty…soul beauty. This kind of beauty might outwardly appear revolting or undesirable at the very least. But for those that have the eyes to see, it is the purest form of beauty, ignorant of age, race, gender or religion.
I have a lifelong friend who is a cancer survivor. After she lost her hair and struggled and fought her way through chemo and radiation, her hair began to grow back. Naturally, she was self-conscious, but as she was bathing one night, her little girl petted her head and offhandedly commented how much she loved her mom’s cute, tiny baby hairs. Those little stubbles of hair growing out of a bald head were beautiful. My dear friend in a weakened state of vulnerability was beautiful. It just took someone with the eyes to see.
I have another friend who while walking toward an elevator got stuck behind a slow moving mother and her child with special needs. The child walked abnormally, shuffle-shuffle-clap, shuffle-shuffle-clap. The mother was trying to move her child along to allow people through and apologetically glanced back at my friend. Before the mother had time to offer an apology, my friend enthusiastically exclaimed, “Look at your beautiful child! He’s clapping to the rhythm of his steps perfectly!” The shocked mother admitted that this was indeed what he was doing. A child finding his own rhythm was beautiful. A mother trying to be sensitive not only to her child, but to those around her was beautiful. It just took someone with the eyes to see.
In each of these cases, our well-intentioned society might try to “fix” that which is “ugly”…make-up and a wax job for the sweet nun, a wig for my friend with cancer, therapy for the child walking irregularly…thus allegedly beautifying each scenario. But in doing so, we dictate what we think beauty SHOULD look like and lose sight of what true beauty actually is. True beauty functions like a magnet. Those who are unable to perceive it will be repelled and perhaps even repulsed. But for those that have eyes to see, true beauty will attract, draw in, and connect people on a soul level.
I realize that I severely lack the eyes to see. I feel sorrowful when I recognize how much of my own soul is uncultivated, wild, ugly even. But in order to avoid hypocrisy, I must practice seeing the beauty in my own soul. I must nourish what is good within me instead of dwelling on that which is lacking. And like a novice photographer sharpening his eye for what will make a good photograph, perhaps my vision will become clearer, less muddled by the confines of society, more free to see what is true and pure, more grounded in that which is real. May we all have the clarity of soul to see the true beauty that is found in the “ugly”.