I went and got my feelings hurt today because of a careless remark about a tattoo of mine. It’s the first time I’ve ever ended a conversation with my best friend feeling… well, less than beautiful. I wanted to cry. I wanted to smack them. Their words hurt, and it was about something I can’t change.
I’ve had this tattoo for over half my life – so long, in fact, that I barely notice it now. It’s just a part of me. And I think that’s what hurt. It felt, on some deep down level, that I had been rejected. This is someone who genuinely cares about me and is one of the most loving people I know. I knew better, and yet it still hurt.
As I’m dwelling on this, trying to swallow the hurt I know wasn’t intentionally inflicted, I got to thinking. This, as some of you know, is quite dangerous for me to do. And yet, sometimes, a little clarity and understanding comes out of it…
At three months old, my sister lay dying in the hospital. She would seizure for three minutes and breathe for one; her brain was slowly dying from lack of oxygen. My parents had so many options… Yet, as those of you who know us are aware, they took the road less traveled.
They were told she wouldn’t live past 5 years old. My parents took her home anyway. They were told she wouldn’t live to see seven, and if she did, she’d be a vegetable. They loved her, taught her what they could and protected her. She wouldn’t live to see her teens, wouldn’t live past twenty… and then the doctors quit guessing.
My sister is 37 now. Her graying, thinning hair frames young, blue eyes and a mostly unlined face. She is full of love and has no guile. She doesn’t know how to lie. She doesn’t know how to steal. When she likes you, which she often does, she really likes you and you know it. When you aren’t her favorite person, which is less often, you know that, too. She doesn’t hide her feelings: doesn’t know how.
I have often wondered how hard it was for my parents to make the choice to keep her. I have just as often thought that, for them, they made the only choice there was. I have to wonder, even now that I have my own kids, would I have been so loving? Would I have willingly sacrificed my entire life to take care of her?
Through the years I’ve watched, and often shared with them, a slew of emotions in dealing with my sister. They’ve struggled with anger, frustration, and impatience. They’ve struggled with the yearning to spend time with each other, or go out with friends; they’ve struggled with selfishness and exhaustion. It was always a struggle, but Becky came first.
Through watching them, my brother and I learned a major lesson. Family first. And not just when it’s convenient.
When There Is No Choice
You know… I was 16 when I got that tattoo. I don’t even remember why I got it. What I do remember is this: I had a choice. I was young and stupid, didn’t think of it as marking my body up or what it would look like at 35, but the choice was there.
There are so many people who have no choice – who have been disfigured or handicapped through no fault of their own. They’ve been ridiculed. They’ve been rejected. They’ve been treated as something less than human. They’ve been treated with hatred, distaste, and disdain.
The woman who lost a breast in order to live. The Vietnam veteran who lost his leg fighting in the war. The child who was born with a cleft lip. Countless lives, countless stories, and countless numbers of truly beautiful people, rejected because of their outward appearance.
I’ve watched and heard people make fun of my sister all my life. Not so much now that I’m an adult and (so I’ve been told) somewhat intimidating, but it still happens. She’s never had a choice to be anything but what she is. And she is beautiful.
And I guess this is where this blog post is getting around to.
The Beauty Within
I’m not sure there’s any such thing as “unconditional” love in the physical world. Yet, I think my parents, and those like my parents, have made choices based on love as close to unconditional as it gets for us. And I think, although I could be way wrong, that it’s based on seeing something beautiful – something wonderful and innately special – in everyone.
Every Saturday, I watch my sister walk around and greet the members of our local church congregation. She grins at some of them, hugs some of them and nods at some of them. Some, she just hands her baby doll to and then walks away.
What I think is so fantastic, so wonderful, is not necessarily what she does, but their reactions. With rare exceptions, every single one of them has looked passed Becky’s 36-year-old outside to see the beautiful, affectionate three year old she is inside. They talk to her and write on her paper when she hands it to them. They hold her baby doll for her and treat her like a person.
So many people have ignored her throughout her life or treated her unkindly, because they couldn’t see what was really there. Inside. Where it really counts.
Vanity Oh Vanity
How much of the inside do we really see? Or how much do we miss, because we’re so obsessed with outward appearance?
Whether men or women, we all have our primping process to go through before we leave the house. We fuss with hair and clothes; women may fuss with shoes, makeup and earrings. Everything has to be just so. We say we want people to like us for who we are on the inside, but spend hours working on the outside.
So much vanity.
Today, I realized something I never knew about myself. My outward appearance and my inward self are closely tied together. Since I’ve never liked myself much anyway I wouldn’t have figured that, but it appears to be true. My friend’s remark felt like a personal attack on who I am. In a world where outward appearance is so highly valued, this is a dangerous attitude to have.
There is no single part of you, or you, or you, or me, that everyone is going to like. For that matter, there will probably always be something about you that you don’t like. The woman with long, straight hair spends money and time getting it cut and permed. The woman with curly hair spends hours straightening it. The man with the balding head spends money and time getting plugs put in. The man with all that thick hair spends hours keeping it shaved smooth.
We have colored contacts for those who aren’t happy with their eye color. We have botox for those with too-thin lips, rhinoplasty for too-wide noses, and who-knows-what-plastic-surgery for flat cheekbones and weak chins. We have hair dye for brunettes that want to be blonde and blondes that want to go red.
Fake nails take care of finger biting. Liposuction takes care of sagging, aging bodies. Laser hair removal, breast implants, makeup and, yes, even tattoos, all go into beautifying, changing and enhancing the outward appearance. The joke’s on us, though. We do so many things to our bodies that we can’t take back, hoping to make ourselves more attractive, more wanted, more interesting… more more.
I got over the initial hurt from the comment fairly quickly. After all, when you know someone actually cares about you, it’s much easier to realize they probably didn’t mean something the way you took it. However, I’m glad the incidence happened, because it gave me some insight into how I – how we, society – view things.
We have all these quotes like, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” while we do exactly that. We do it even to ourselves, like I did with the tattoos, assuming our outward appearance really matters.
So… what did I learn? I learned that, when it’s all said and done, we all end up the same.
Old. Wrinkled. Gray-haired – if we have any hair at all.
We all end up looking down at the ten year old that says, “Wow. You’re really old,” even when we’re only 35, or listening to the 35-year-old crack jokes about being over the hill, even when we’re only 50.
The botox doesn’t last. The liposuction has to be redone. Makeup is a daily thing; hair dye never lasts. The tattoos fade and sag as young skin ages. Eyes colored by contact lens almost all end up watery and red.
In the end, all that’s left – all that counts -is who we are inside…
And really, isn’t that all that should have counted in the first place?