When my daughter was young we visited a women’s monastery. There was a young nun tending to the chickens. By all cultural standards, she was not pretty. Her face was broken out and scarred, she had thick glasses and braces. Her dark eyebrows formed a solid line, giving the appearance of a heavy, furrowed brow. However, she warmly invited my daughter to help feed the chickens. They chatted and laughed like old friends and when they were finished, my daughter casually remarked to me, “I hope I can be as pretty as she is some day.” Her statement stopped me dead in my tracks and pointed out my embarrassing and blaring inability to see true beauty.
I’ve been thinking a lot about beauty lately: not the Victoria’s Secret/Hollywood kind of beauty, or even the glowing sun setting over the mountains kind of beauty. I’ve been mulling over the idea of true beauty…soul beauty. This kind of beauty might outwardly appear revolting or undesirable at the very least. But for those that have the eyes to see, it is the purest form of beauty, ignorant of age, race, gender or religion.
I have a lifelong friend who is a cancer survivor. After she lost her hair and struggled and fought her way through chemo and radiation, her hair began to grow back. Naturally, she was self-conscious, but as she was bathing one night, her little girl petted her head and offhandedly commented how much she loved her mom’s cute, tiny baby hairs. Those little stubbles of hair growing out of a bald head were beautiful. My dear friend in a weakened state of vulnerability was beautiful. It just took someone with the eyes to see.
I have another friend who while walking toward an elevator got stuck behind a slow moving mother and her child with special needs. The child walked abnormally, shuffle-shuffle-clap, shuffle-shuffle-clap. The mother was trying to move her child along to allow people through and apologetically glanced back at my friend. Before the mother had time to offer an apology, my friend enthusiastically exclaimed, “Look at your beautiful child! He’s clapping to the rhythm of his steps perfectly!” The shocked mother admitted that this was indeed what he was doing. A child finding his own rhythm was beautiful. A mother trying to be sensitive not only to her child, but to those around her was beautiful. It just took someone with the eyes to see.
In each of these cases, our well-intentioned society might try to “fix” that which is “ugly”…make-up and a wax job for the sweet nun, a wig for my friend with cancer, therapy for the child walking irregularly…thus allegedly beautifying each scenario. But in doing so, we dictate what we think beauty SHOULD look like and lose sight of what true beauty actually is. True beauty functions like a magnet. Those who are unable to perceive it will be repelled and perhaps even repulsed. But for those that have eyes to see, true beauty will attract, draw in, and connect people on a soul level.
I realize that I severely lack the eyes to see. I feel sorrowful when I recognize how much of my own soul is uncultivated, wild, ugly even. But in order to avoid hypocrisy, I must practice seeing the beauty in my own soul. I must nourish what is good within me instead of dwelling on that which is lacking. And like a novice photographer sharpening his eye for what will make a good photograph, perhaps my vision will become clearer, less muddled by the confines of society, more free to see what is true and pure, more grounded in that which is real. May we all have the clarity of soul to see the true beauty that is found in the “ugly”.