At the St. Dominic’s Nursing Home there is a prominent display of photos of some of the elderly residents. They all sport thinning gray or white hair and wrinkled faces, but as the gallery title notes they are all quite beautiful. There is something about the unadulterated natural appearance of humans that is far more gorgeous and pleasing to the eye than that of stick thin models whose faces are recreated with makeup and whose eyes sometimes appear to be almost vacant. We humans possess a radiant loveliness that does not require artifice to be enchanting
I received my most recent copy of National Geographic Traveler magazine a few days ago and in between the covers were stories of people and places from all over the world. One woman’s photo struck me as being particularly lovely, and yet she was hardly what anyone might call a classic beauty. It was the delightful twinkle in her eyes that lit up her face and overshadowed any flaws in her appearance. Her smile was inviting and gorgeous and I found myself wanting to know her and her story. She was a truly beautiful person.
I remember being shocked one day when I heard one of my aunts proclaim that my grandmother had never been a beauty. I found myself totally disagreeing with her even though I had only seen my grandparent in the later years of her life. As far as I know there were no photographs of her as a young woman, only those in her later years when she had grown heavy with the weight of bearing ten children. By the time that I knew her she was wrinkled and her hair was frosted with gray. She never wore makeup and her preferred dress rarely included wearing shoes. Still I saw her as a stunning woman. Her face was classically Slavic and her blue eyes reflected a heart of pure gold. To me there were few women as gorgeous as she was.
It was much the same with my other grandmother, a tiny woman who was not quite five feet tall who never weighed much more than eighty pounds. She was an old lady by the time that I was born. She had long before replaced her teeth with dentures and her skin was soft and creased with age and hard work. She too had blue eyes that fairly danced with merriment and mischief. Her hair was thinning and the osteoporosis that afflicted her bowed her back into a quite noticeable hump. Still I thought of her as one of the prettiest ladies that I had ever seen. I especially loved her hands which were capable of producing the most incredible meals and crafting clothing, quilts and crocheted items worthy of the finest homes.
They say that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but I maintain that all we need do is remove the scales from our eyes and we will begin to see and appreciate the true exquisiteness of those who might never find themselves on the cover of fashion magazines. Such people literally radiate loveliness not so much because they might win a beauty contest but because of their openness and generosity of heart. That is the true appeal that we often miss when we assess appearances. I am actually quite happy to note the current trend of demonstrating that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, ages, races and genders. As a society we are growing more and more willing to accept that our uniqueness is actually the best of our features.
One of my favorite movies was Elephant Man, based on the true story of a man born with a genetic disorder that rendered him grotesquely riddled with tumors that made his face and skin resemble that of a pachyderm. He was savagely shunned from society and wound up being ridiculed as a sideshow freak in a carnival. Once he was saved from his dreadful existence by a doctor who hoped to help him, it became apparent that he was far more than his outward appearance. He was a gentle and beautiful soul who inspired those who befriended him. He somehow managed to see the best in people and life in spite of the mistreatment that he had so long endured. Those who knew him learned to see him with a new vision in which he was not a horror but rather a vessel of goodness.
I was shopping in Highland Village recently along with some of the loveliest people from many of the wealthiest parts of town. So many of the women that I observed had somehow hardened their looks with hair dye, a profusion of makeup and possibly even plastic surgery. There was something so artificial looking about them. Worse yet was the fact that many of them appeared to be very sad, as though they had not been able to find contentment in spite of their good fortune. True beauty comes from within and somehow it was missing in some of the people that I saw. It actually made me sad to realize that not even the ownership of a hundred thousand dollar automobile or designer clothing can mask unhappiness or a soul that has lost its way.
Don’t get me wrong. I paint myself up for special occasions and highlight my hair to keep it from looking dull. I find nothing wrong with attempting to be a bit more attractive but I have found that all of those efforts are for naught if one’s heart is not filled with love and compassion. Those qualities light up the face like no manmade product ever will.
As my mother lay dying she became ever more beautiful. There almost seemed to be an aura about her in her last moments on earth. She had always been an attractive woman but in the end it was her love of her family and her God that shone in her very eyes. She was experiencing a peace and joy in knowing that her life had been well lived. Her loveliness was stunning and comforted us all.
Our young want to be seen as being beautiful. They look in the mirror and study all of their flaws wondering how to become more alluring. They have yet to understand that it will be the content of their souls that determines their ultimate appearance to the world. Think of someone like Jimmy Carter who is so heart warming and giving. He is beautiful to almost everyone. Then consider someone like Adolf Hitler. His hideousness was derived from his actions. It was difficult to look past the horror of his deeds in assessing his looks.
The world is filled with beautiful people and their pulchritude has little or nothing to do with their physical features and everything to do with their character. This is the lesson that we should be teaching our children. Perhaps the story of Beauty and the Beast is the best fairytale of them all, for in that tale is the understanding that our external appearances have little to do with who we truly are.