This I Believe

Lisa - Buffalo, New York
Entered on April 16, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
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This I Believe

I believe that faces are biographies. I also believe that the story behind a face is shaped by the life experiences of the observer.

As a young soldier in Army basic training, standing in formation one sultry South Carolina morning, my drill sergeant (a very tiny Chihuahua of a person) barked, “What’s wrong with your face soldier? Why you so mad? Why you so sad?” The only reply I could emphatically muster was the truth: “Drill Sergeant- it’s just my face Drill Sergeant!” She stood speechless for just a second, studying my honest expression looking through hers– gave me a sly smile, and walked away to her next victim.

Recently, I had a more painful experience regarding the story of my face. I had to have surgery to correct a deviated nasal septum, which resulted in severe facial swelling and two major black eyes. Following a week of being housebound, the cast thankfully came off– and I was able to interact with society again. Walking home from the hospital, a group of men painting a house stopped to stare– We thought you were wearing make-up under your eyes” one announced. I wittedly replied, “You should see the other guy.” Those who knew the cause of the purple eggplant bulges (ripening to a vibrant shade of deep yellow as I write) had no shortage of quips for me to tell curious onlookers—most of them insinuating that I had been involved in some sort of fist fight involving another woman or snow shovel.

I believe that life’s greatest lessons often come to us in the everyday experiences—say, a trip to Target to replenish depleted household supplies (saline nasal spray, peroxide, Q-tips). Near the carts, I noticed a woman perform a double take as she caught sight of my black-eyed expression, whispering to herself as she looked my way. I was browsing the fresh line of spring clothes, inspecting a pale pink ruffled blouse, when she suddenly appeared at my out stretched arm. Up close, I saw how haggard she looked. Her face was drawn long, with lines so deep they seemed to hold the exhaustion and sadness of the entire world.

She was obviously nervous and stammering for the right words…she started to tell me that she was a recovered drug addict…that she had found the lord and he had saved her life. I immediately thought she was asking me for money—I tried cutting her off, telling her “I don’t have any money to give to you.” She paused and looked down at the floor—“I don’t want any money”– she slightly laughed. “I want to tell you that I know what you’re going through—I’ve been there– and there is a safe place for you to go to…” She began rummaging through her bag for a pen and paper, and it was then I realized what conclusion my healing face had given to her. Caught off-guard and still feeling cautious, I flatly replied—“No, no…I just had some surgery.” “Oh, I thought I could help you—I wanted to help you” — and I watched her eyes drop away as she turned and disappeared in the opposite direction. I started walking the aisles again, numbly pushing my cart forward. I thought about this woman, and how my perception led me to automatically think that she wanted something *from* me, when in fact- she was looking to *give* me a little refuge. Guilt washed over me. Obviously this woman had been abused. I had undergone this surgery out of my own volition. I was given pain medications and had the loving support of friends and family during recovery. I could only begin to imagine the suffering this woman had endured under the heavy hand of another angry human being. I turned around to look for her again—to thank her for her courage in reaching out to me—but she was nowhere to be found. Later, I came across a quote by author Anais Nin, “We don’t see things as they are—we see things as we are,” and I thought of how her experiences of domestic abuse had shaped her perception of my face. While I saw myself as healing, she had seen me as damaged and in need of support.

Yesterday evening as I was out walking, I passed a young boy about five years old, waiting with his mother near the bus stop. I could hear his little voice echoing to me as I passed “Who beat you? Did your daddy beat you up?” and reaching up to touch the tender skin beneath my eyes, I was overwhelmed by gratitude behind the real story of my face.