healthy beauty – a new year’s reflection

Before today, I hoped to write a reflection of the previous year full of clever anecdotes, deep personal discoveries, and shiny pearls of wisdom for you to oogle at. I wanted so badly to have some profound insight regarding current, relevant happenings…maybe something political, like gun control…maybe something religious, like the “end of the world”…but, to be honest, I’m having a hard time thinking of anything that’s not sickeningly self indulgent. My 3rd child was born, I started a promising new job, I’m doing this, that, and the other thing…blah blah blah. Of course, I’m not saying these things are bad or that I’m a 100% selfish jerk (it’s only like 70%). It’s just frustrating when one’s writing goals are to make one’s self sound like a big, interesting, smarty-pants. One can exhaust one’s self! (those last two sentences were written in a snooty English accent)

Perhaps my cynicism is due to the recent news of my mother’s health and some thoughts I’ve had about beauty. The week before Christmas, I spent a significant amount of time with my mother in the Emergency Room at Holy Family Hospital as she dealt with intolerable pain. The drug she had been taking for cancer treatment had a number of unfortunate side-effects including high blood pressure and severe body aches. FYI – She is out of the hospital now, off the chemo drug, and is recovering at home. Treatment has been an up and down roller-coasting nightmare for that last three years. Mom has endured the ride in hope that recovery may be possible. Last week on Christmas Eve, her doctor, along with his “support team”, let her know that recovery is not possible (in his medical opinion), and his recommendation is to pursue “quality of life” rather than pursuing a cure. I generally understand what he meant by “quality”, especially in the physical sense. Mom will feel better (at least for awhile) if she is not on chemo-therapy drugs. Of course, I couldn’t help but think that there must be more to it. What would actually make her life something of “higher” quality? What would make for a beautiful last few years…months…weeks?

As a measuring stick for what others find to be beautiful, I observed the things people are sharing on social media, photographing, discussing, etc. I wound up feeling slightly numb and a little bit icky. It reminded my of a visit to a friend’s lake cabin when I was a teenager. I remember walking onto the T shaped boat dock in the early morning, looking at the glass-like water. My walk broke into a run toward the end of the dock, anticipating a cold but refreshing plunge into the dark water. I dove in. My hands were the first to cut through the thick slime sponge that was lurking, invisible, about 4 feet under the surface. My head, shoulders, chest, and belly submerged into the muck and then stopped when my hands hit the actual lake floor. There was a moment of panic when I wondered if I was stuck. There was a second moment of panic after I pulled myself out and resurfaced. What the hell just happened? What was this brown, pungent goo on my face and in my ears? I had such high hopes for that moment…and I got covered in weeds and poop. It’s not completely fair to compare that particular dive into the lake to “diving into social media”, but it was the feelings afterward that were closely related. Why do many of the things we find beautiful or interesting end up feeling so shallow and gross?

It seems that most of us are addicted to the sensual. Beauty has become limited to the things that look, smell, taste, sound, or feel good in the moment. Beauty becomes something that exists to be consumed…traded as a commodity. Momentary transactions that only continue to satisfy when they become more profane and sensational. When it is reduced only to our personal and subjective senses, we end up with societies (or social networks) that find it easier to criticize and consume, rather than nurture and cultivate beauty. Sadly, when I look at the things that grab my attention, and also when I share things that I hope will grab the attention of others, this “sensual, cheap, momentary” form of beauty is what I see.

Last night, as my 6 year old daughter was going to bed, she walked over to Nona (my mother) kissed her and said, “I love you Nona”. I thought about how one year ago, my daughter wouldn’t even say “goodnight” to Nona. She used to think that Nona was mean and bossy, but after a year of my mother’s patient kindness to her, Hannah now adores her Nona. This is beautiful. To think that my daughter is watching someone endure tremendous suffering, battle constant pain, deal with uncertainty, put up with annoying relatives (like me), and to witness my daughter watching someone, in spite of their unfortunate circumstances, pour out love and patience and kindness directly to her…..that is beauty of a kind that will resonate within me through 2013 and beyond.

I hope 2013 will be the start of many beautiful things.

photo Hannah and her Nona

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