[Caveat: anyone who replies to this blog about how beautiful I am will be struck by lightning. I am pondering here as a blogger is wont to do, not looking for compliments].

I have been mulling how to write this section for a few days. Talking about beauty, particularly as it may or may not pertain to me, is difficult. Here goes.

Like most American women, I have struggled with my looks throughout my life. Mostly around my weight, my square face, any given bad haircut, my less than perky boobs, and now because the piercings in my ears are stretching (ugh), but mostly my weight (of course, old trope that). I have been complimented and jealousied about my legs, how great my hands are with their ropey veins, but I am not classically beautiful by any means, and now I’m nearing 60 so there’s that. Until the KYANSAH apparently.

I have had more people tell me how beautiful I am in these past 2.5 months than in my life all together. And while it’s really nice to hear, particularly at a time when I feel less so, I have to wonder what it is that is at the crux of this effusiveness.

My mom told me once that she preferred me with glasses on. “You just look better with glasses!” she told me brightly. Really mom? I’m your child and you think I look better with plastic frames and lenses in front of my eyes than in my natural state? Perhaps she just didn’t want to buy contacts… but I have never forgiven her (oh fine, yes I have). And there was that comment about my yellow teeth while standing outside my apartment on North Willard St. in 1986.

So all this beauty with a bald head with age spots on it no less (yes all you 50 somethings, there are age spots under your glorious locks). Mary, you just look better bald or with a scarf wrapped around your head and with the buddha belly you have developed (all my life I have waited for a wasting disease to take off the excess weight, I finally get cancer and, nooooo). What do I do with that? Because people, I am pretty tired of being a bald buddha.

In order to seek beauty, do I continue to shave my head after the chemo? (Oh, we all seek beauty, don’t even go there.) Is there something about my bald pate, the shape of my head? Or is this “beauty” something deeper than just how I look sans cheveux and will promptly get put back on the shelf once my cancer and breasts (that right there may put an end to this) are gone? Are people seeing beauty because of the potential for that person (oh, right, me) to die? If that’s the case, we should all be telling each other how beautiful we all are and not only telling it but SEEING it. It all comes back to mindfulness (that Jon Kabat-Zinn, he just won’t go away). Because, folks, this is all ephemeral. Poof!

So, assignment for the day: with each person you see today, particularly those you love, see them through the eyes of “poof!” and tell them they are beautiful. And for those of you to whom it is said, believe it. Because we are, glasses, yellow teeth, bald pate, jelly belly, and ALL. Now there’s an image.

Tiny Vermont woman, rode hard, put away wet with no teeth and a sweet heart.

I am in the Winooski Beverage warehouse getting a bottle of… wait for it…. Chardonnay! when I get into line behind a woman buying lottery tickets. I don’t know about you but I loathe getting behind people buying lottery tickets: “I’ll take the quadruple or nothing, no, wait, give me the blue ocean creatures, and 3, no 4 of the megamillions because I am pretty sure I am going to win this time, 3 of the scratch-a-face, oh wait….”

Perhaps the only thing worse than following someone buying lottery tickets is when that person has no teeth and talks about 40 miles a minute and is completely unintelligible. The guy behind the counter (and I) could not understand a word she said. He is standing there helplessly waiting for her to point and then verify how many she needs. Then, I distinctly hear “cancer” and she’s looking right at me and my bald head. I glean that her 42 year old son also has cancer (and just when he’s gotten his life together), that we are both heroes, and that she needs to buy 3 more lottery tickets for us.

Now she is standing next to me, frizzy grey-haired head just touching my elbow, arm around my waist, telling me how special I am, that I am a hero, and that I am going to beat this thing, just like her son will. The cashier fellow interrupts and asks her which lottery ticket she wants to give me. Silence. She looks at him. She looks at me. He repeats more slowly, “which lottery ticket is for her?” She looks a little frantic and worried. I say “I believe she was buying them in honor of me and her son, not for us.” She smiles this big toothless smile, gives me a squeeze, blesses me and takes her tickets.

You just can’t make this stuff up. 🙂

The importance of saying goodbye on purpose redux.

This past weekend the Gallagher family celebrated the life of Pete Gallagher, brother, son, husband, step-dad, grandfather, chef and friend. Originally there had been no plan to have a ceremony, his death having come suddenly and feeling too overwhelming for his wife and children to put one together.

But it was clear to his brother Roger that people needed an outlet for their grief and to honor the life he led, both its triumphs and its harder times. Parents, siblings, his wife, step- and grandkids needed to say goodbye; nieces, nephews, friends, and colleagues needed to say goodbye.

It was a lovely day on Lake Champlain with a breeze to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Words that had been labored over, crafted and re-crafted, were spoken, poems recited, music played, all with love. Then everyone gathered for food, drink, and stories. This is elemental to who we are as humans. Breaking the bread, recounting the funny parts, the sad parts, the loss of the future. I believe it is essential to walking through and with the grief.

We can be so scared of leaving ourselves open to grief, that it will swallow us whole, we’ll “lose it” and not be able to regain control. But, like the lyrics Becca, Maggie’s best friend who died last year loved, “all the good comes in waves” and all the bad does too. That’s how we get through, hopefully riding different waves at any given time so our friends and family can hold us up, and we them in turn.

Not a few people came up to me to say that they had thought the ceremony would be too sad to handle but that they felt good, felt better, for having been through it.

Through: “passing from one side of a place to another in the course of a longer journey.” It’s what we do whether we know it or not, whether we pay attention or not, whether we learn from it or not. Our choice.

This is perhaps my favorite poem from the day, recited by Luke:

Talking to Grief by Denise Levertov

Ah, grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone. 
I should trust you.

Mart and Haggis

I should coax you
into the house and give you
your own corner, 
a worn mat to lie on, 
your own water dish. 

You think I don’t know you’ve been living
under my porch. 
You long for your real place to be readied
before winter comes. You need
your name, your collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders, 
to consider
my house your own
and me your person
and yourself
my own dog. 


9 thoughts on “Beauty

  1. Mary, wow, your candor (and your beauty) are remarkable. It’s funny what people see and don’t see and when as well. I think at our age, all of those comments about our looks that we (sadly) incorporated and took to heart should be burned up. Every single time I wear shorts or a skirt to this day my mother says. “Your legs aren’t small Lisa, but they are shapely.” A teacher told me in 7th grade when I was packing on pounds, “That dress makes you look two feet tall and three feet wide.” Thanks, Mrs. Harris…that was just what my 12-year-old self needed to quit hiding Keebler Fudge Stripe cookies in my closet. Bravo! PS I love the story about the lotto tix. I hope she won in you and her son’s honor. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I wonder if your change in apppearance is causing people to actually look at you without wondering about their own worries or fears or inadequacies. Your current self is so different than it was just a few months ago that you can’t easily bcome part of a familiar tableau. And maybe when people stop and forget about themselves and really look at anyone they see beauty. I know this is weird but everytime I see a national geopgraphic shot I am struck by the beauty of the person. Many of the people are poor with one pair of clothing and not a lot of gym time but they look directly into the camera and allow themselves to be seen. Maybe cancer does that for people in America and you are asking us to try it without needing such a drastic reality check to wake us up. Challenge taken up my friend. I will try tomorrow and see how long I can keep my eyes open.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My sister said “cancer makes people love you”. I reply to you as I did to her. No, cancer doesn’t make people love you. It makes us realize we’re only here for a short time. If I don’t tell you now I may lose that chance forever. Bring on the lightning because you are beautiful. Only difference now is I potentially have less opportunity to let you know that I’ve always thought that. Cancer wakes us up to the fact that every day is a gift, and this day includes the gift of you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You may be parenting your cancer, but your cancer also seems to be parenting the funny, fearless writer in you, as if it’s a lens bringing everything into sharper focus! I cannot stop chuckling over the image you planted in my brain of that fast-talking, toothless, lottery-ticket-buying woman in front of you, and of the brilliant “save” you came up with. Bravo!


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