Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Aria's Beauty

A friend of mine recently wrote about her son finally losing his hair. She shaved it after growing weary of hair in her chapstick, drinks, food and so forth. But she mentioned being glad to have this part of the journey over with and to let go of all the baggage associated with hair loss due to chemotherapy treatment. I loved that word, “Baggage” to describe the emotional build-up around this particular aspect of the journey. I cannot emphasize enough the enormity of it. It makes everything so real and let me tell you, it is no small piece of luggage to drag around. It is most definitely a part of it and it has to be accepted on some level but getting to that acceptance, for me, took a little time and a lot of thought. I had some serious attachments to Aria’s hair and to my own and letting that go was no small feat.

This email is a wonderful description of how I opened up my baggage and went through it until I was done and could close it and put it away for good.

Subject: Aria’s beauty
Date: February 24, 2008

This is a difficult email to write because it represents my superficial side, which is something I find less than noble. I can be quite shallow in how I see the world and it isn’t anything I am particularly proud of but it is a part me and a reality that has recently hit me in the face.

One of the most blatant examples of my superficiality dwells in the cliché, “Never judge a book by its cover.” I think this statement is the biggest pile of hog wash there is! I am positively and completely drawn to book covers! The book cover is the first glimpse I have of what lies within the pages. If it is a tasty view to my eye, I am definitely more inclined to pick it up and look it over, versus something gory or sappy sweet or even generic. This is the case when I’m left to my own devices. When other people recommend books, however, I rarely notice the book cover and simply read the book because of the recommendation. It is exactly the same way with wine! If a wine bottle has a fun label, I’m likely to give it a try. If someone recommends the wine, I drink it without really noticing the label other than to remember it if I really like it. How fickle is this? I don’t know if everyone behaves this way but I’m certain that my vanity runs deep and I’m not happy about it.

My issues with vanity and superficial looks came to a head last week after posting pictures of Aria as she looks now. So many people commented about how beautiful she is and despite the fact that I know that INTELLECTUALLY, I was struggling with feeling that EMOTIONALLY. Once again, the conflict between what I know in my mind versus what I feel in my heart was raging. What’s really horrible about all this is that Aria is my precious daughter and I couldn’t feel that she was beautiful when I looked at her and this reality threw me into my own personal pit of sorrow. What an awful thing for a mother to feel! I was grieving so deeply about how Aria’s physical appearance had changed and even though I know, intellectually, that her present appearance is temporary it has been hard to watch the transition. I found myself saying, “Isn’t she so beautiful?” as if I was trying to convince myself. All the while, I was looking at her pictures and feeling so sad. She looks so different and it is sad. Last week countless people told me how beautiful she is and I’m convinced that people were able to see beyond the physical changes and I was so grateful for that. However, it did nothing for my sense of shame for what I could not see and feel myself. Still, I took people at their word and it was helpful. I was even more grateful, however, to Aria’s preschool teacher who one day last week poked her head into the car to say ‘hi’ to Aria after we had picked up Reo. Aria was thrilled to see her and had smiled only a half smile but she was obviously so happy. They chatted for a few minutes and then Mrs. Young came out of the car, looked me in the eye and burst into tears! She said, “Oh My God! She’s not even the same little girl anymore! She looks so different!” I hugged her and was incapable of expressing my gratitude for her honesty. It was as if she had released some pressure in me that I had been toting for days. She collected herself quickly and then said, “Oh, Julia, I am so, so, sorry! That must have sounded so horrible! I only meant......” I cut her off and thanked her! I told her how much her honestly meant to me! I felt validated in some ways. I needed someone else to say what I had been thinking and know that it didn’t matter but at the same time know that it was hard and sad. In that moment, I was relieved. Yet, I knew I needed to work on it. I knew I needed to change my attitude and pronto! This was not making me happy and I firmly believe that we are here to be happy and enjoy life no matter what. However, happiness takes work sometimes and boy did I have my work cut out for me on this one. Not only did I need to work on regaining my happiness but I also had to work on my issues of vanity and what a ugly can of worms that is! I found myself listening in on a conversation my mind and my heart were having. This is what they said:
“So, Aria’s beauty is only how she looks?” my mind asks me.
“Well, it’s the first thing I see.” I reply with my pitiful heart.
“Well, let’s begin there. What do you see when you look at Aria now?” my mind asks me.

I paused thoughtfully and said, “When I look at Aria now, my mind tells me that she is strong, even though she has been so incredibly weak. She is smart and funny, even though she is just beginning to smile and laugh after a month long hiatus from both. She is beautiful even though she is bloated with dry lips and skin and thinning hair. She is magical even though she has been keeping her magic to herself. When I look at Aria now, my heart screams, “Just look at her! She is so sick! She is so Sick! She is so SIck! She is so SICk! She is so SICK!!!!”

My mind calmly tells me, “Yes, Aria is so sick but you forget. Aria is on the path toward healing.”
“I know! I K-N-O-W!” my heart responds with an extra beat to roll my eyes in disgust.
“What is Aria’s beauty? Where is Aria’s beauty?” my mind asks firmly but gently. (always gentle is my mind)
“Aria’s beauty is her spirit and there it dwells.” my heart says feeling a little more peaceful.
“Seek her spirit and you find her beauty. Look not with your eyes. Find a way to sense her.” my mind told me.

I found myself saying, “you’ll know when you know” which is something I say all the time. I didn’t give it another thought. A few days later Aria showed me that her feet were dry and she wanted me to rub lotion on them. I was thrilled to be able to do this for her. It was just the 2 of us and I had been craving some real intimate time with her, especially since I had been feeling like such a piece of shit about the whole beauty thing. I was a mess! So there we were in the upstairs bathroom. Aria was sitting on the toilet and I was sitting on the floor on the purple bath mat with my legs and feet sort of around the toilet base. I looked up at her while she stared down at her feet and gently played with her ear. Suddenly I was completely overwhelmed with the most peaceful feeling. I took a deep breath and I closed my eyes. “Sense her beauty....” I heard myself say. I started to rub her feet and the strangest images popped into my mind. The first one I sort of shook off because it was so weird but it just wouldn’t go away. I imagined picking buttercup flowers and holding them under her chin “to see if you like butter or not!” I rubbed her feet some more and gently let the palm of my hand graze her toes and I imagined in my mind’s eye gently gliding my hand over purple clover flowers. They were the perfect images. They were soft, colorful, beautiful, innocent, young, fresh and real. All the things that best describe Aria’s spirit and make her so uniquely beautiful. I looked up at her and she was still staring at her feet and me rubbing them. I smiled at her and caught her eye. She barked, “Stop it, Mom!” and I burst out laughing. Oh, she was so beautiful in that moment and I was able to see, finally see, beyond the cover of her changes and the label of beauty.

I’m afraid that I’m still hopelessly superficial when it comes to books and wine,
but in terms of my daughter, I see what you see and I am happy again.