The beauty that endures
I believe in non-physical beauty. It may be called internal or eternal beauty, but I believe it is also alive around us and that it lives most vividly in our connection to others. We can’t hold it in our hand like a sea shell or admire it as we might a starlit sky. By definition, this beauty is intangible. And though I believe in it, I have questions about it.
My hands now pose these questions; pose as questions themselves, as they bathe my mother lying quietly, not answering. But I know she loves the warmth of the water, and me being here. I move slowly, holding the soapy sponge with mind as well as hands. Hoping, in the full giving of attention, to encounter the beauty I don’t understand. Perhaps recognize some acumen, or deliverance.
The skin of my mother’s neck and right arm is wrinkled, loose and soft in its folds. Her carved left side is a sculpture of many surgeries, a crazy quilt of scars. There, where, over a span of sixteen years she lost much; left arm, ribs, shoulder and breast. My touch becomes more careful here. My mind scans for beauty. Sees the history of agonizing hospital stays, urgent trips to the U.S. from my home abroad, years of recurrence, recovery and remission, recurrence again. And my mother’s fearless fight and determination. Her wide eyes sparkling, capturing everyone with their tenacity. How she always went on, earning her master’s degree, starting a business, traveling the world. How she inspired people to be true to themselves, and never give up. Here, here, in these memories, is beauty. That of love, relationship and resilience, impenetrable to any surgical knife.
My bathing hands move on to her hips and legs. Here the skin is taut and smooth. A 20 year old girl’s skin. Here, is physical beauty. Guiding the sponge gently across this silky skin my tears escape and fall onto her thigh. This is not fair. Not her dying, but the incongruities of her life. Success and failure, beauty and beast in one body.
But fairness is not in question here. Every life has its profound despair, its lithe jubilance. We contain all of it, studies in contradictions and opposites, self-portraits of both beast and beauty. Beyond beholding it, beyond understanding it, I believe we must choose our own beauty, whole-heartedly, and therein be delivered.
So I choose my mother’s left forequarter that cancer has ravaged and wrecked. Give me its pain and triumph. Tell me its tales, full of nuance and error, richer, deeper, more eloquent than a 20 year olds’ wholesome youth. For the young woman’s physical beauty is but nature’s transient grace, while the scars and stories of my mother’s body, dying now, are the ageless beauty of family bonds, strength and struggle, dignity and hope. The great beauty of all that endures beyond the physical. A beauty endorsed by all Gods. My mother’s beauty now, bathed and undying. The beauty I believe in.
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