“Can we stand in the shade, please? I need to get out of the sun.”
I looked at the beautiful woman next to me. Her eyes hidden behind sunglasses, it was hard for me to tell what it was that was troubling her so greatly.
“Are you not feeling well? I can get some water for you,” I quietly replied while looking around for a place in which she might find sanctuary from the oppressive summer heat.
“No, I’m fine. I just need to protect my skin. I’ve spent so much on it to remove the years – I can’t afford for them to return.”
Age is such a tricky beast when culture defines beauty as what used to be.
I felt the words float around me like ash from a fire – the most painful picture of a life cut short while it yet breathed more. Though it would have been so easy to discount the pain by telling myself this was just someone who had sadly bought into the lie of self-preservation, I instead walked over to a place sheltered from the sun. I looked at her skin, so smooth and undefiled, and then gently touched the lines on my own face. And I silently prayed.
Because I fight to keep the fires from burning in my own life.
Age is such a tricky beast when culture defines beauty as what used to be. The reality of my five decades is that a lot of good and hard life has been lived. But I am encouraged to do everything I can to erase it all – to go back in time a decade or two when things were porcelain and pretty. I get caught up in the moment, yet I know so much better. Because even in my 30s, the same fires were burning. I looked in the mirror with the same critical eye, pulling my cheeks up to get rid of the jowls that are my heritage and the wrinkles that had begun to show when I laughed.
Every morning, I stand in front of the bathroom mirror, all the beautiful trappings scattered about on the counter below me. Dressed in flannels and yesterday’s curls, and longing for perhaps the one more hour of sleep that might turn back the hours just a bit and make me feel a little more becoming, I look at the woman and speak the words, with the wake-up call of soap still on my face.
I speak the words that quench the flames.
I am lovely. Wrinkles and all.
Because real beauty lets people know where the laughter has lived.
Real beauty is brave and bold and unafraid of the days it is given. And it laughs.
And I’ve seen it. Real beauty. I have to leave my neighborhood to find it, but it’s there. Beauty lives in a rundown government building hidden from view on a city street. Her name is Mrs. Alexander, and her brokenness becomes more beautiful with every hymn she sings on Sunday mornings. Beauty lives in a neighborhood forgotten by good folks. Her name is Florence, and she faces each day with graceful force. Beauty lives with the vultures and the dogs and the stench of a garbage dump in Guatemala. Her name is Estella, Florentina, Elena, Juana, or Maria – and she labors hard in the harsh sunlight and holds her loved ones close.
Real beauty is brave and bold and unafraid of the days it is given. And it laughs. Oh, how it laughs, unashamed to show the world the lines like a treasure map.
Real beauty is in us, each of us. Real beauty is in you.
You, with the dark circles because life hasn’t allowed much sleep. You, with hours in a day that never align with the hours that you need. You, with the too much and too little and too many questions about why things are as they are. You, with the baggage and the blemishes and the big dreams and the “why should I try.” You, with the not enough years lived and not enough years left. You, with the scars. You, with the past. You, right now. Today. You on your best day. And you at your worst. You in all your reality.
You are real beauty. You are lovely. Wrinkles and all.
We are a most compelling story, a most beautiful story. We are a drama, a comedy, a romance, a thriller. We are chapter upon chapter of life. Oh life. Even at its hardest, it’s a most miraculous life. We are a miracle of such magnitude.
And so I say a little prayer for us – for you and me, the ones who face a culture that says beauty is what used to be. I pray we let the treasure maps of our face be seen. I pray we are unafraid to be broken and labor hard and face the days ahead of us. And laugh. I pray we learn to laugh with abandon. And I pray we let people know where the laughter has lived.
And on the days when I gently touch the lines on my face and long for smooth and undefiled, will you remind me of real beauty? I promise to do the same for you.
Because we are lovely. Wrinkles and all.