Have you ever looked in the mirror and just wanted to cry? I did that one recent morning, having had too little sleep and far too little coffee to cope with revelation. My body wasn’t any of the things I’d wanted it to be… that was clear from the get to. Not tall as Julia Roberts or thin as Calista Flockhart, not straight and lithe and sexy as when it was young and innocent of life. My face, while it’s a perfectly good face, shows signs of more experience than you could shake a stick at. My breasts – always my best feature – seemed to be holding their own pretty well, but my abs, God help them… they were never made of steel, but of flesh that’s carried children, and comforted life’s large or small hurts with one too many tea and toasts, by the look of it.
My mirror scrutiny was occasioned by the fact I’d had dinner the night before with two wraith-like Fashionistas, who were pondering which new diet doctor would be able to dredge the last ounce of flesh from their fragile, anorexic bones. I have to admit, they looked pretty spectacular in Size 0 power suits I wouldn’t have fit into at birth, but that’s neither here nor there. It reminded me of the night I’d dined with a Hollywood mogul-woman and she ordered four lettuce leaves for dinner and discussed the various vinegar choices with the maitre’d. I’d suggested she get the kitchen working on the peeled grape she’d need for dessert, but she hadn’t found that amusing.
I stared at my own reflection, feeling a dismal failure, a flop at Atkins, The Zone, South Beach and a lifetime of privation, and weirdly, that’s when something shifted – or maybe I just got feisty in the face of all that self-abnegation.
Body of Wisdom
I saw the enduring strength of me staring back – tensile, stalwart, inexorable – to say nothing of a heart the size of Montana that I’d inherited from my parents. Staring back and waiting patiently for acknowledgment was a body I’d never really said a kind word about except during sex, but I’m not sure that counts because we’re all a bit deranged while having orgasms. There was a back that had shouldered burdens all too willingly, my own and others’ who needed a back like mine. Breasts that had nursed babies, given quite a lot of pleasure to men I’d loved, and to me, of course, who still tingled at a number of remembered ecstasies. Legs that had carried me around the world and then some… arms that had enfolded friends and family, lovers and even strangers who needed a hug on a given day. A heart that had sustained my parents and my children in their terrible dying, but still believed in life. Hands that had once knocked out an attacker with a good right-cross, but had more often cooked and cleaned and comforted, written, painted, pleasured and reached out to give what needed giving. Eyes that had seen life and death, even glimpsed beyond the veil, and still managed to see the value of being here and loving life as long as possible. There was a mouth, not nearly as plump as it used to be, that had kissed away hurts and probed with passion the soul of love. And strong, homely feet that worked just fine to carry me wherever I wish to go, their bright blue nails a small defiant gesture.
A Tapestry of Truth
And it was all quite powerful. And wise. I saw a body that had withstood the abuse of a thousand silly diets, the humiliation of seldom believing itself just fine the way it is, the ecstasy of being wildly loved, the pain of being cast-away, the indignity of growing older.
And it seemed gorgeous in its aliveness and consistency. A tapestry of truth… my life writ large in its imperfections. All parts working as they always had, asking very little in return for such loyalty and diligence and courage.
I put my clothes on slowly, fascinated that I’d never seen me in that light before. It wasn’t that being young and beautiful wouldn’t have been wonderful, it was just that being what I am had a lot going for it, too.
© Cathy Cash Spellman/The Wild Harp & Co. Inc 2011