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BEAUTY

As a young child, I remember being told that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

It was usually said in a derogatory way prefaced with “I guess,” when someone was not capable of seeing the beauty I saw plainly.

I was young, and still unafraid to share how I felt about certain things without fear of being ridiculed. I emersed myself in nature as often as I could so I understood how beauty affected me and was surprised and often baffled when others didn’t agree.

I might find a snakeskin stuck to a log being hauled in for the woodpile and be so mesmerized by its beauty that before I knew it, I was being yelled at to stop daydreaming and get back to work.

For whatever reason, dead things fascinated me. An owl pellet demanded dissection; the picked apart skeletal remains of the mouse it shit out was a beautiful puzzle begging to be put back together.

A petrified bullfrog found in the road after a heat wave may have been fascinating and beautiful to me but was better left outside to finish rotting like the disgusting dirty thing it was, according to whoever happened to be in charge.

Even my body was beautiful to me way back then. Back during that short, bittersweet period when I believed the well-defined muscles in my thighs to be a thing of beauty allowing me to outrun anyone who dared to race me (like the boy in this picture) while doing it barefoot to boot.

Over time as I got older, much of the beauty I was accustomed to and had so appreciated, began to dull when I started spending more and more time with my studies and less and less time outdoors.

Long before I was even a teenager, I was already sneaky copies of my sister’s beauty magazines. That’s when I discovered a whole new kind of beauty and quickly became fascinated by the beautiful women gracing the glossy pages who left me feeling woefully inadequate but satisfied for the chance to drink in their beauty.

My fascination rather quickly turned into an addiction. I skipped right over anything that had “teen” in the title. No Teen, Seventeen, or otherwise. I went straight for Mademoiselle and Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, Cosmopolitan and of course SI’s famous swimsuit issue.

Christie Brinkley, Paulina Porizkova, Kathy Ireland, and Elle MacPherson, just to name a few, all became my idols as did all of Charlie’s beautifully fierce Angels. Since I was one of only two blondes in my small circle of girlfriends, I had the good luck to play either (Jill) Farrah Faucet or (Kris) Cheryl Ladd whenever the mood struck us.

It seems like overnight we went from walking on romper stompers to teetering on heels.

From playing with our super elastic bubble plastic and playing “house” with our baby dolls one day to plastering each other with makeup stolen from the pharmacy up the street or an older sister’s stash, the next.

By the time Naomi Campbell and the rest of the supermodel crew hit the scene, I was a full-blown beauty addict clamoring for a fix.

I tried everything those beauty magazines prescribed, but in the end, my beauty regime consisted of Noxema and rubbing alcohol every night before bed, no exceptions. Followed by an application of the newest cellulite or bust developing cream and the reliably ineffective “I must increase my bust” exercises.

Gone were the days of hiding out in the woods alone, now it was all about being seen.

Once, during the middle of a sixth-grade science class, my best friend and I were marched out of the room and told to wash the clown makeup off our faces. It was that or go right to the principles office, so we begrudgingly complied.

I was only ten years old at the time but already felt naked without my mask; naked and ugly when all I wanted was to feel as beautiful as all those women.

By the time I was fifteen and had had a few boyfriends under my belt (but over my jeans) I quickly figured out most boys weren’t all that interested in looking at your face.

By sixteen I had the benefit of being in a committed relationship and soon realized I didn’t need all that. I was never going to be as beautiful as them anyway, and besides, I had more important things to worry about, like getting a full-time job and finding a place to live at the age of seventeen.

Fast forward three years and I’m married. Four years after that and I’ve had my first child. Time blurred like a distorted photograph; it was passing so fast.

Giving birth to my daughter changed everything I thought I knew about beauty. The long sought-after superficial beauty I had strived for vanished like a rainbow disappearing in the sun when I looked into my daughter’s big blueberry eyes for the first time.

When my son was born two years later, he once made a grown woman cry just looking at him; he was that beautiful.

“Beauty is an inner and outer reflection living in one face.” -David Whyte Consolations

They were a triple threat. The embodiment of truth, beauty, and goodness; made with love and exuding pure love from the moment the took their first breath.

Not only did they pull back the curtain and show me what real beauty was, somehow, they immediately reconnected me to Nature, my surrogate mother and I saw that our connection had not been severed and that we still were and always would be connected by the root.

After they were born, I tried to spend as much time outside with them as possible. I was fortunate to have a good paying job that allowed me to work from home, so they never knew what it was like to not have me around. When they were both still under the age of five, we sold our house in the city and moved in with my parents who were kind and generous enough to take us in, while also helping to take care of the kids while we began building our new house in the woods.

We were finally going to put down roots, but I sensed it was more than that. We weren’t just building a house; we were building our home.

I was growing a taproot that would connect us to this land for the rest of our lives.

I moved out of the house of my parents and back home to my surrogate mother where she welcomed me with open arms. It was an overwhelming reunion that brought me to tears on a regular basis.

I wasn’t aware of how deprived of beauty I’d been until I started seeing the world through my children’s eyes. Turning over a rotten log in search of salamanders filled us all with wonder and appreciation for the natural world, and holding one of these delicate creatures made you feel like you were holding God’s hand. Not the vengeful guy with the long white beard that I never believed in, more like an essence or presence of pure love.

“Beauty is the harvest of presence, the evanescent moment of seeing or hearing on the outside what already lives far inside us; the eyes, the ears or the imagination suddenly become a bridge between the here and the there, between then and now, between the inside and the outside; beauty is a conversation between what we think is happening outside in the world and what is just about to occur far inside us.” -David Whyte Consolations

During the few short years my kids attended public school, I missed this harvest of presence so much I was soon starving, so with my husband’s full support, we made the daunting decision to pull them out of public school so I could homeschool them instead.

Declaring that I would be wholly responsible for their education inspired many unsolicited opinions, less than a handful of them positive, and most days had me feeling like I was treading water – way out past the deep end – unsure as I was as to how it would all turn out.

I had no idea what I was doing but knew I could rely on my inner compass for guidance, trusting that it wouldn’t steer me wrong. And I was right. And we flourished. We had our days of course, but looking back on it now makes me realize it may be the single greatest thing I’ve ever done with my life. This teaching gig was reciprocal; they taught me as much if not more than I ever taught them.

Our classes were held in natures classroom, and every day there was a new lesson to learn. Collected tadpoles and monarch caterpillars not only taught them life cycles and metamorphosis but the virtue of patience as we anxiously waited to release frogs and butterflies back to the wild.

The curriculum included daily walks in the woods and climbing trees, and rescuing the occasional gosling or baby wood duck that had gone astray. If I could only teach them one thing it was going to be, to appreciate the overwhelming beauty that surrounded us every day, knowing someday they might be called upon to protect it.

I had the extraordinary privilege of teaching these two beautiful creatures I’d given birth to, and in the process soon realized I was also giving birth to myself.

As they became more intelligent, I was gaining intuitive intelligence about who I was and what I was always meant to be. I was finally letting that persistent voice inside my head be heard for what felt like the first time in my life, and I trusted what it was telling me.

When it told me to stop paying to lease a horse for my daughter from a barn nearby and build a shelter in our backyard for her to have her own horse instead, I questioned my sanity, but soon enough we did just that, and until very recently we never looked back.

We had the privilege of taking care of two beautiful horses at our home for sixteen years, and in turn, they took care of us by enriching our lives with beauty in ways we never thought possible.

Not long after that, I was being nudged in the direction of photography, so I took classes at an art school nearby and had a light-bulb moment while working in a dark room for the first time.

I held my breath and watched nascent images come into existence before my eyes, and teared up at my newfound ability to capture fleeting beauty permanently.

Beauty was never more so in the eye of the beholder then when capturing an unusual image and showing it to someone who’d initially scratch their head unsure of what exactly they were seeing.

“Beauty is an achieved state of both deep attention and self-forgetting of seeing, hearing, smelling or touching that erases our separation, our distance, our fear of the other.” -David Whyte Consolations

 

I once achieved a state that completely erased my separateness from my surroundings. It’s not a feeling I’ve ever been able to describe, but I will try.

I was walking alone, without my dogs through a field in early fall and for a brief moment the fruity pebble foliage took my breath away and replaced it with a full body knowing that I was intimately connected to everything I was seeing and feeling. The wind became my breath as I stood still no longer there, gone for a few brief moments to join everything that ever was and ever will be.

It was a moment that will stay with me forever for at that moment a seed for a new story was planted. A story I finally knew my place in, not only as a character but as its author.

It’s taken me a long time to trust myself to tell it, but I think it was worth the wait.

 

NEXT WEEK: BEGINNING

 

 

About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

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