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Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Day an MRI Technician Introduced Me to Sleeping Beauty

The day before yesterday, I had an MRI taken of my right shoulder. It has been a problem for years, but the time had come to learn why. While being led back to the dressing room by an attractive, young, blond woman named Ashley, we joked because I am such a frequent visitor to the MRI department of the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.  This young woman is bright, ambitious, in fabulous shape, and quite attractive. I asked if she had a beau. I learned a lot about the difficulties of meeting people if you are not part of the bar scene. She was reluctant to use the Internet to sort the field, preferring to meet on a personal level.  I told her how pretty and smart she was and that I imagined that her ”someone” was out there – in the great big world – doing his thing, while she was doing hers. I told her I was confident that time would bring them together. Then she said something completely unexpected, unsolicited and definitely unsettling. She told me I was pretty. 

      Here is the thing, there have been people in my life who have told me I was pretty – even beautiful – but I always assigned them as belonging in one of two categories.
The first group:   Those are my family and close friends who would say that I was beautiful even if I had moles on my nose and three eyes because they see me through their eyes of love.  They see me as a whole entity including personality, physique and  and visage. To them, I am an animated whole. These wonderful people do see my beauty and remind me of it in all sincerity, but their opinions are jaded.
The second group:  Members of this ilk tell me I am pretty because they want something and have long ago discovered that flattery is a valuable bargaining chip.

     Yet on Wednesday, there was this young woman -- with absolutely no investment in me –emotionally, physically or financially -- she was not seeking an outcome of any sort, by telling me I was pretty.  It caused me to think, “My goodness, what if she is actually right!?“ Can you imagine the Richter scale earthquake this thought precipitated in me? Could I have been pretty my entire life and been so dubious of others and blind to it myself that I missed this vital fact?

      The odd thing was that just a couple of months ago, I met a gentleman who apologized if he was staring at me. I hadn’t noticed, actually. He hastened to add that  he couldn’t stop looking at me because I was so beautiful.  He talked about my cheekbones and my eyes and my wide, bright smile. I laughed, delighted at his joke and changed the subject. So you see, even then, a small crack had started to threaten my understanding of who I am. Na├»ve of me, maybe, but it did not feel like a pickup line.  He seemed too embarrassed for that to be all it was. I filed the incident away under Interesting Factoids until the day before yesterday, when I was forced to reconsider the possibility that it might be true.

      Most of us  carry the definitions of ourselves just as our families ascribed them to us unless we work to change them. My grandmother often told me that I would never be pretty, but I certainly was a “handsome” girl.  My mother told me I was pretty and smart just the same way as she said, “Good job on your grades, dear, would you please feed the cat?”  There was little or no substance behind her words.  Of course, I understand better now.  For my entire life, I have looked very much like my mother.  She was self-effacing and would never sing her own praises – even if it was by inference. Later in life, when I was a mother myself, she told me I made a beautiful mother. I took that to mean something entirely different than a comment on my looks.  My father’s approach was to group me in with other family members.  For example, “Look how pretty the girls look tonight!”  he might say of my mother, my sister and me.  My husband, in our days of courting, told me I was beautiful.  I put
him in both categories; he was at once kind of required to say that -- and he also knew that, in all likelihood, his avowal of my beauty would stimulate and improve my amorous nature.  

      The young MRI technician named Ashley, really started me off on a new line of inquiry altogether.  So let’s try on for size the idea that I am a beautiful woman. I mean the kind of easy-on-your-eyes beautiful. Exactly how had I missed that for 56 years, and what’s more, what else have I been missing?

      Over my lifetime, people have told me I am strong, I am smart, I am brave, I am wise, I am kind, I am generous. I want you to picture bulbs flashing – like the camera lights that left you seeing white dots dancing in front of your eyes for five minutes after the bulb had stopped flashing. What if, at birth, the same fairy godmothers that visited Sleeping Beauty visited me? What if I, too, was instilled with the special gifts bestowed upon Sleeping Beauty – but I never realized it until January 21, 2015 when I was 56 years, four months and sixteen days old?

     I guess the only possible way to test the hypothesis is to start believing. Start believing that I am beautiful.  And believing that I am strong, I am smart, I am brave, I am wise, I am kind and I am generous.  And perhaps, of most importance, that I am grateful. I know, that whether or not I really am pretty, strong, smart, brave, wise, kind and generous, there are people in my life who love me and that very love allows them to believe these things to be not only possible, but true.

     Evidence!  I say, there must be evidence some of these qualities exist..  Like the bubble in a level, I roll back and forth with my thoughts until they settle in 1997.
Some of the golden jewels of my memories took place during the year my son was three-years old.  I would have been harried, sleep-deprived, and, in all probability, quite disheveled as well. As a stay-at-home Mom raising three children between the ages of three and seven, there were moments I couldn’t summon the wherewithal to remember my name. I moved on autopilot, feeding, clothing, and caring for these three small creatures. On the otherwise empty refrigerator door, I carefully placed a biblical verse to inspire me, 
 “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.”  
So far as I could tell, my work was cut out for me, but at least I had my marching orders.
    The job as a mother consumed me. It was an all-hands on deck situation. I was grateful my husband was there to share the responsibilities with me. Our partnership was a good one. When we reached the conclusion that our children would benefit from having a stay-at-home parent, I was the one to give my notice and adapt my corporate skills to running a household and raising a young family.   I missed my paycheck.  I admit that.  That paycheck gave me a form of independence I haven’t enjoyed since. In addition, I missed receiving performance reviews. At work, when reviews were delivered by people whom I respected, I found them tremendously helpful; little did I know that my own children would become both my mentors and critics.  Instead of formal, quarterly reviews, my new job provided daily, sometimes hourly, feedback on how I was doing as the mother of Hannah, Kay and Charles.  Surprisingly, it was not all bad! There would be unexpected moments of splendor that would carry me for weeks.  It was when the children found a way to let me see myself through the lenses of their eyes that I received the greatest and most useful gifts.
     I remember how I would genuflect before three-year old Charles every morning to help zipper his jacket or tie his shoes before we left for preschool. Balancing on one knee, I kneel before him, just about to scoop him up and hustle him to the car and into his car seat.  For those brief moments, we found ourselves eye-to-eye. That’s all it took. At the most unexpected, heartbreaking moments, he would cup my face in his little chubby hands. My son would hold me there until I looked right at him, then say in his sweet little, high voice, “Mommy, you so bootiful.”  That phrase, “Mommy, you so bootiful,,”  still rings in my ears today.        
     Kay let me know how I was faring as her mother every step of the way. I clearly recall the day midway through adolescence when I realized I simply didn’t have the skills she needed from a mother. I was failing her.  She was irritable, unreasonable and disrespectful. I could find no way to reach her. After weeks of that behavior, I went in to her room to talk to her after the heat from our most recent dispute had cooled down. I had taken her cell phone and hid in the porcelain Easter Bunny we keep out of sight most of the year. I sat on the edge of her bed, desperately trying not to cry.  I said, “Kay, I am not sure I am equipped to give you the guidance and mothering you need. I am thinking it might be a good idea if I went away for a week so we can both reflect on how we can move forward.” By then tears were flowing freely down my face and I could do nothing about it.  She looked at me, dry-eyed and stern-faced and said, “Why do you have to be so dramatic?”  I got up and walked out of the room, carefully shutting the door. I wondered exactly who was this young woman?  Was she really mine?  Fast forward two years. Both of my parents were very ill. I couldn’t get to them right away because of other commitments at home. Kay offered to go help them until I could join her. My parents called her their “Angel of Mercy.” She stood alongside me caring for both my parents where they shared a hospital room. (That they could do so is one of the very special perks of living on a small Island).  During my mother’s last weeks, Kay barely left her. She massaged her legs, brought her ice, adjusted her pillow, and she sat. Intuitively, Kay knew that being present, simply being there, is one of the greatest gifts you can give a dying person. When my mother died around three in the morning, she was in my arms and Kay lay draped right alongside us both:. three generations, one bed. It was a vignette that we will remember and cherish for our lifetimes.  When Kay went to Thailand, she brought me back a small bell used by the monks at one of the temples she visited. Some days, I tap the bell from where it hangs in my bathroom. The high-pitched sonorous ring always centers me. It reminds me that out of brass, something unyielding and hard, comes something of great beauty is created and it reaches far beyond its perimeter to touch many hearts. The bell brings me to Kay,                               
 Hannah is studying for her doctorate in psychology focusing on children with anxiety disorders.  Recently, she asked me, “How did you know what you were doing when you raised us, Mom?”
I asked, “What do you mean?”
She said, “Well, I don’t know if you realize this, but you did everything right.” “Right?” I said. “I was flying by the seat of my pants, Hannah. I did what my mother did with me.  I guessed a lot and I used the book, ‘Raising Your Spirited Child’ by Mary Sheeda Kurcinka as my bible.  Somehow, against all odds, your father and I managed to produce not one, but three spirited children. And now I say, thank goodness!”  It was astonishingly nice to hear that, in Hannah’s opinion, I did okay.

Which brings me back full circle. Children have a way of letting us know exactly how we are doing.                 
As I move forward with the task of reinventing my life, I carry with me the knowledge that, YES, my goodness, I am beautiful.  I may even be strong, smart, brave, wise, kind, generous and most certainly, grateful. I am going to look for these qualities in others and try to acknowledge these gifts in myself. That which we reinforce in others we make blossom in ourselves.  

And you can quote me on that.

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