On Beauty


Cancer has slowed me down. And slowness has opened my eyes and sat me down.  Sometimes there has been little beauty in this forced slowing of both body and mind–the crumbling finger nails, the missing eyebrows–but sometimes, the slowing has made space to see so much. And I want more of it, whether it’s the words on a card from a friend, the intricate embroidery on a pillow case, a play that expands your view, the translucence of citrus peel being candied, or the sunlight in the cemetery on my regular (slow) walks.

All of a sudden I am also struggling with beauty and how I perceive myself in this world. Losing the hair on my head did not phase me but losing my eyebrows in these last few weeks has rocked me. I feel like I actually look sick just as I’ve finished chemo and started to feel more like myself again. This tension is hard and I think, “what of it?, what does it matter?” but in this very moment it seems to matter. So I turn to other beauty; the poems below, the feeling of sunlight on my face right this minute, to the abundance of love in this world, despite all the despair and darkness and turmoil and I am alright.

Sleeping in the Forest
By Mary Oliver

I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

Boy and Egg
Every few minutes, he wants
to march the trail of flattened rye grass
back to the house of muttering
hens. He too could make
a bed in hay. Yesterday the egg so fresh
it felt hot in his hand and he pressed it
to his ear while the other children
laughed and ran with a ball, leaving him,
so little yet, too forgetful in games,
ready to cry if the ball brushed him,
riveted to the secret of birds
caught up inside his fist,
not ready to give it over
to the refrigerator
or the rest of the day.

Out in the Cold

cold-and-wetThis morning on our way to school we saw a woman huddled in a doorway, trying to pull on a coat. She was struggling with the coat, maybe her hands weren’t cooperating after a night on the street in this miserably cold, wet weather. She was leaning against a wheelchair covered with a blue tarp and smiling at people walking by on their way to work or somewhere warm. My son noticed that she was sitting very close to a sign that read No Soliciting, No Loitering, No Camping. “That’s not right” he said. “Where is she supposed to go?”

I’ve been thinking a lot about physical and emotional discomfort lately and the silver linings and opportunities this discomfort and pain has afforded me as discussed here last week. I have been able to do so, in great part, because I have a warm place to live, good health insurance and a strong, loving support network.

Seeing as I am now a bit more familiar with pain and suffering, I am also more affected by witnessing the hurt and discomfort and pain all around me. Pain that probably doesn’t afford much musing about silver linings  Living on the streets with no where safe and warm to go must be just awful. I hate being cold and wet, hate it!

What can I do? What can we do? We can look, we can see people, acknowledge them and find small and large ways to share what we have and provide comfort in these cold, wet times.

There are wonderful organizations devoted to providing stability and a sense of community in most places I’m sure. Here in Portland I look to Streets Roots and Sisters of the Road for such comfort.