“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
~o~ Reinhold Niebuhr ~o~
~o~ Reinhold Niebuhr ~o~
In an odd turn of events I found myself, just a short while ago, at a website where you can order glasses frames online and use these special new doodads, rather, programs where you upload a picture of yourself so that you can see what you look like in the frames you are considering buying. I now consider these a ruse to get you to take a frightening picture of yourself that will shame you into a place wherein you don't care about what the eyeglass frames look like on you anymore, you just want SOMETHING to cover that face up FAST! I myself decided, upon seeing the picture, to spend the rest of my life hiding under a pug. Or so it felt this morning when I was foolish enough to press that horrifying button that turns the camera around to face you so that you actually have to look at your startled face when you take the picture. They all pretty much made me look as I do above, like an aging blind person (Not blind really, just trifocalish, but no eyeballs showing to clue you in otherwise...) with slits for eyes, a neck I refuse to believe really looks this way and a nose that looks something like a small squash of some sort with a stylish little crooked turn. I was simply horrified. NO ONE will EVER see this, I groaned. But then...
Well, I could go on to explain that I just woke up, was very tired, had a tiny blind pug in my lap who refuses to live elsewhere, and on and on, but the truth is that I am a 58 year old woman who has weight to lose and is working on it but also had a very severe case of Bell's Palsy in 1995 that never completely went away, in fact, some days it shows up quite colorfully, kind of like I'm doing a circus trick with my face. If I tried to smile really big the left eye would really kind of squint and droop at the same time and the left side of my mouth would turn downward. It has been one of the hardest things I have had to live with in my life, sexual abuse, mental health disorders, car accidents, a lifelong battle with weight and other things notwithstanding. You see, after I'd had children and began to really struggle with my weight which seemed to expand every year, my last vestige of self confidence came because everyone told me what a beautiful smile I had. In June of 1995 I developed such a severe case of Bell's Palsy that 3 medical doctors, my chiropractor and accupuncture 3x a week for a year would not make things right. I went from horrified, to depressed, to numb, and eventually -- not because of the Bell's Palsy -- slipped away from the world entirely to a place where 9 animals don't much care what you look like as long as you love them, feed them, and give them treats. A perfect life for me, with all of my extant quirks and oddities anyway, I think.
So why did I take, much less share, the above picture? I took it because -- and I don't like to use or believe in this language -- it is me at my worst. Seldom do people see me like this, Bell's Palsy notwithstanding. No, I never wear much if any makeup anyway but when I'm up awhile and more chipper I look a little more alive. And my glasses hide a multitude of things I'd never known were there to hide, and where did that NECK come from? AND, bless her heart, that woman in the picture, that reflection that is me, I love her now more than I ever have in my whole life. I have come to accept her, just as she is today. Before I've lost the weight and with the Bell's Palsy kind of hanging out, and no glasses to hide anything, and without the wee bit of powder, lipstick and on odd days a dash of blush which really do help a lot, I stand before you naked as a jay bird and I smile with a soft heart at that woman that is me.
And as I write that I realize that I have really made it, or most days I have. I have begun to accomplish what I'd hoped to when I took the name Maitri Libellule, legally, in 2005. Maitri is the Buddhist teaching of loving-kindness and compassion, and the heart of the teaching is that we must first love ourselves, embrace our tender hearts and all the rest, because we cannot give from an empty well. It's good to have empathy, compassion, and to feel loving-kindness for the world around us, but if we don't have it for ourselves we have nothing to give to another. Self-Love, Happiness, Joy, Inner Peace -- all of these things are an INside job. And so I look at that picture of myself, unadorned, a picture I shyly put up and thought to take down a number of times while writing this piece, and all of a sudden I have felt an amazing sense of self-love and tenderness for she who is me. I am committed to spending my life spreading loving-kindness and compassion for others through my work. Something has been holding me back. Today I realized that it was that final step, the great leap over the crevasse that is the distance we must cross to come to a place of loving ourselves just as we are. I can look at that 58 year old woman and I can say, "I love you. Thank you for being my vessel in this life. Thank you for giving me a huge heart that loves, a tender quality that softens everything around me like a picture fading from bold oil paints to soft watercolor images, allowing me to see past the physical world and into the soul of things." I was considered quite lovely when I was younger. I modeled. And I didn't half love myself, wasn't nearly as comfortable in my own skin, as I am today. Thank God.
I do not judge anyone for the choices that they make. If a woman needs to have plastic surgery to feel good about herself, more power to her, and I, again, am not making any judgement at all, but I feel a little sad, as if some people are hell bent at doing whatever they can to hide from themselves, to hold up only a false image to the world because they are afraid that they will not be loved otherwise. It breaks my heart. What we must realize is that a person's reaction to who we are says far less about who we are than who they are, and what they feel inside, their own fears and insecurities and the struggles that they have with their own self image. Do not feel hurt or angry if you do not feel accepted or praised by another, especially if there is something about you that the world "sees" as less than perfect, because so much in our culture has become jaded and broken and what ever happened to caring first, valuing most a rich inner life? Of course we all want to be seen as attractive but that just seems to be a near impossible task because the way the pendulum swings as soon as you get "that perfect ________," (Fill in the blank -- weight, haircut, nosejob, etc...) the tides will have turned and you will no longer be in style. I appreciate outer beauty, and I also see the value of working with, celebrating, becoming comfortable with who I am. Now I am doing healthy things to take care of my body. I want to feel good. I want to be strong and vibrant and have the energy to do the work that I am here to do, lopsided smile, cattywompus countenance, and all.
In 2001 I was featured in "The Utne Reader," and they published a picture right off my website (even though they'd sent out a photographer who'd taken many much lovelier shots) because they liked it. It was a picture of my grey parrot Henry sitting on my shoulder looking at me and the caption I wrote said, "Don't show this picture with that lopsided smile!" I never realized it would turn up in a national magazine. But so things go.
And that was over 10 years ago now. And I lost my beloved parrot Henry in 2008, and part of me went with him. I don't think I will ever get over losing my beloved boy, but now I have Miss Scarlet, my near nekkid grey girl that I adopted in May, and life goes on, and so do we.
I share this today, shyly, in hopes that you will look at yourself in the mirror and be a little kinder. That you will turn away from the mirror and feel that soft place inside of you that loves, that is gentle and kind, and that that is the part of you that you should nurture and care for, for when your cup runneth over with the self love that we all need -- it is the fuel that propels us forward -- you can shine your loving light into the life of another, and let them pay it forward. That is how we help one another. That is how we love ourselves enough to transcend our own fears in the hopes that it will make someone else's day a little brighter. I have tried to do this here, today.
Close your eyes. Put your hands over your heart. Feel it beating. Smile. Feel the rising tide of gentle waves inside the center of you, the place where your soul resides, invisible, but present, and let that be the part that you care most about nurturing. Take care of the outside, but live on the inside, and everything will be alright.
I am sending you so much love. I am cupping your sweet face in my hands, smiling, and hoping that you can feel what a tremendously beautiful human being that you are. Because you are, I am, and so is the rest of the world. Let us now close our eyes and move forward with love...