“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 a place 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.”
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 know so much better. Because in my 30s, 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.
But real beauty lets people know where the laughter has lived.
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. Her name is Estella, Florentina, Elena, Juana, 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.
That’s what I pray 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 you are beautiful.