I'm reading a marvelous book, Captivating, by John and Staci Eldredge. Staci is a former/lapsed Catholic; she and John write for an Evangelical press. I have actually read this book once before; last year, going to Raleigh to sing with the Master Chorale, I went into Barnes & Noble one afternoon and read this book over a latte grande... and journalled like a fiend - This month, when I had a bit of money to spare, I had to buy it for myself.
This idea that each woman is created as a Beauty is disconcerting to me. You see, all my life, I have believed that I ranged from Plain to Mostly Ugly. No, I couldn't play dress-up, my mother told me; I was too rough, too careless, too clumsy; I would tear or break or dirty.... Every compliment about my prettiness was always responded to with a disapproving look and "Pretty is as Pretty does." I was rough, clumsy, etc., so obviously I could not be pretty. The message was even more firmly packed into my mind during my first marriage; homosexual men don't particularly care about the beauty or worthiness of a woman, except as how it might reflect on them.
So - I'll be fifty years old in a month, and all these years I've thought of myself as "plain." All for the simple reason that I didn't deserve any better.
I don't know who some of the readers of this blog are - there are some locations that I recognize (Linda, God love you for your loyalty!) and some that make me wonder... despite the possible risk of being discovered, I want to tell a story about myself, a story that reading Captivating has caused me to relive, vividly, this evening.
It was nearly two years ago. I had met a fellow Catholic at Chorale, had quickly come to admire him in that way that is dangerous for a woman like me - that fervent admiration for a man's character, intellect, accomplishments, and in this case, his Faith. I longed for every opportunity to be in his presence, to engage in conversation with him, because somehow, in his company, I did not dislike myself so very much, because he awakened good and noble things in me that I had lost along the years.
We attended Mass together one Sunday after one of our concerts. He followed me to the parish with the late Mass, and I waited as he rummaged in the back of his vehicle for the umbrella, as it was a grey, drizzly evening. He opened the umbrella and held it over my head -
and I had one thought: either I am going to walk half in and half out from under this thing, or "the girls" are going to keep bumping into him. Terribly embarrassing thought, that! and without deliberating, I reached up and took his arm to steady myself against the probable awkwardness of ... ahem. cough. (shhh - boob assault)
He looked down at me and smiled the gentle smile that I love, and he snugged his arm, with my hand in it, against his side, and I was starkly aware for the first time what a strong, sophisticated, and virile man he is.
We walked into Church, talking until we reached the entryway to the Church - he had me proceed him down the aisle, he motioned me into the pew ahead of him. He lowered the kneeler before I could hook my foot over it and draw it down (my mindless habit) - We prayed side by side, worshipped Christ in the Holy Eucharist; at Communion, he motioned me to precede him in the reception line - After Mass he held my cape and gently draped it across my shoulders....
I've never felt this way, before or since - for one hour, in the presence of a strong and good man, I felt myself to be sweeter and gentler, more womanly, than I have ever known myself to be. The unremitting necessity of self-sufficiency was for a sweet hour lifted from me - I felt shy, a stranger to myself.
And it was only an hour - but its effect on me has never fully dissipated. I read this book, and I relive the rush of awareness, the sensibility of parts of myself I'd never been awakened to before...
And I am grateful that I have been allowed this even-fleeting touch of such strength and goodness in a man that opened my soul to this other, repressed Laura - whom I want to know better and to give full development to.
I almost doubt her existence; perhaps it was just a strange but predictable combination of hormones and chemicals in the air that gave me that glorious hour - and therefore it cannot have been an ontological self awakened, at all -
The struggle with weight - no, there has been no struggle, because until tonight I have left unquestioned and unchallenged the certainty of my own ugliness - my core, fundamental, ontological ugliness.
The struggle to keep house, to bring order and beauty to my intimate dwelling place - a reflection of my perennial condemnation to not being good enough, not being worthy of anything good...
But I remember the twinkle in his eyes as I took his arm that afternoon - and I remember the way he held my high school portrait and studied it - studied it! not just casting a careless polite glance at something so outdated and irrelevent! - and the smile that played about his lips as he looked at the girl I used to be and said, "I think I know this girl."
And tonight I am compelled to question my own self-doubt and self-loathing.
Because of the strength and influence of a good man.