A Well-Earned Face

Just look at the woman in the photograph. Her face is wrinkled. Her hair is white and wispy. A tooth is crooked. None of that is what you notice most. There is a glow that lights her face from within. And a sturdiness that is stronger than her frailty. A kindness. A serenity. Joy.
I remember the older women—mostly Quakers and Mennonites and Catholic nuns—at the anti-war marches in Washington, DC in 1967-68. Their faces were calm as they stood on street corners or joined the protests, holding their signs. I said to my twenty-one-year-old self, “When I grow up, I want to have a face like that.”
I don’t have it yet. When I look in the mirror, I see white hair, wrinkles, collapsing cheeks, but only a hint of that peace like a river in the soul. But there’s still time, I hope. Meanwhile, although I do not judge those who have made different choices, I refuse to dye my hair. I will work hard to lose a few pounds, I will floss my teeth, I will go after my post-menopausal chin whiskers with tweezers, I will put moisturizer on my face (but no make-up) and there will be no botox injections for me. Because someday—someday maybe sooner than later—I hope to have one of those well-worn, radiant faces.
I don’t think anyone gets a face like that without suffering—without the sorrow that breaks us open and leaves in its wake a sensitivity to the slightest hint of another person’s grief. Distress, when we are in the midst of it, does not seem to be a gift, but it is. And there’s no need to go looking for sadness. If we live long enough, we are bound to have plenty of tears.
A face like this draws other people like a magnet. Here, it says, is someone you can trust. Here is someone who will understand. Here is someone who will laugh with you, cry with you, and share a gem of wisdom—but only if you ask.
Sometimes I imagine Mother Teresa (I know you’ve seen pictures of her face—glowing despite—or perhaps because of—her inner struggles). I imagine her on a television make-over show. “Now, Mamacita,” says the plastic surgeon/make-up artist, “a little cream here, a pinch here, some color, and we can certainly do something with those lips.” And in this daydream of mine, everyone—everyone in the studio audience, everyone at home—takes one look at Mother Teresa’s sparkling eyes and laughs and laughs at the absurdity of retouching a face that is already exactly what it was meant to be.

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