(me, by my daughter. i have never felt so beautiful)
“you do not have to be good.
you do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
you only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
meanwhile the world goes on.”
– mary oliver
there are a lot of lines on my face. they seem to be blooming these days. i am thirty five years old, a new kind of springtime in my life. it is somehow unbelievable to see that number in print. inside i feel about nineteen, some days twenty five, sometimes i remember the exact rhythm of my thoughts and feelings when i was small, like my kids. we are all every age we have ever been, but the lines do not lie. they keep me honest; they trace the arc of my life like memory. they tell me about who i am and who i have been and what i cannot wish to change. i have spent too much time in the sun, long days singing harmonies with my teenage friends in summer, sneaking cigarettes that i wouldn’t touch now for all the tea in china, feeling life on my skin like hope. i have spent too much time worrying, with two sharp lines between my eyes to remind me. when i was my daughter’s age, at the start of third grade, we answered questions about ourselves on a thin sheet of mimeographed paper. i held it in my hand recently, and saw in my bold, perfect, deliberate script, that i worried about, “EVERYTHING.” then i raise my right eyebrow, about a hundred times a day: just before i laugh, when i tease the kids, when i am feeling shy. i could never hide it now. the crease is part of me. there is the line across the bridge of my nose, where it was split open, broken. painful, but part of me too.
and i have spent too much time hurting through life. to my complete wonder, you would not be able to see that in these lines. there is so much you would never know by looking at my face, a face i heard was beautiful – one that i never saw before there was this map upon it. now i see my kids, and my sweet, forever brother. there lies its beauty now. but that is on a good day, when i let myself look past the skin that has lived too much, the extra weight which still surprises me, all of that thick worry and exhausting navigation. when i look past me. what i do see in these lines is how much i smile. how much i laugh. after every sentence, so often. it’s something that runs in my family, from my mother’s side, in all its women. it is a beautiful legacy i am proud to wear, to believe in. we find these flashes of light, like lightning in a thunderstorm, gone faster than they came, but which let us see that view of everything. we know it’s there, even when everything feels like nothing.
i spent years looking into the mirror of other people’s eyes and looks and comments – before the grey hairs that make me feel real, and the softness of this new body my kids just cherish, before i thought of myself as the love i feel. the light they threw off toward me was golden, but thin, and way too bright to really see what i was. in my own mirror i could see how far away my eyes were. how i could not really look myself in the eye. i saw myself in a shell everyone seemed to love, in a life that did not fit. it is still so hard to look straight on at myself. but in every picture i take, i see a part of me too. i see the becoming, the hope, the faces for whom i would stop the world.
there is no hiding these lines or soft curves. we are not our faces or bodies, we are the stories we write and rewrite. i want to feel them, in the same way i earned them, and know that they are telling me i am okay. and if you are reading this so are you. we have lived, we are surviving, we are here, together. we are okay.