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I woke up early, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, slipped into a sweater and walked out into the cool morning, closing the door behind me.
Following the short path to the beach, I stepped onto the soft, damp, sand and began to walk the curving edge of St. George Island, the small, uncrowded, barrier island off the coast of North Florida. The sun was just peeking over the horizon. I could see someone far ahead throwing a stick for the dog at his side, but other than that I didn’t see another soul. Looking the other way I could believe I had the island to myself.
The tide had come and gone before the sun rose and the tideline was littered with what the water had left behind. The compacted sand at the water’s edge was carpeted with a layer of shells, or the bits and pieces of what had once been seashells before they were tumbled and broken by the surf.
As I walked, my head down, my eyes on the sand in front of me, I occasionally stopped and picked up something that caught my eye. The sound of the waves cancelled out any other sound and my mind wandered as I strolled.
When I got back to the beach house, while the coffee brewed, I emptied my pockets onto the counter in the kitchen and examined what I’d brought back with me. I’d liked one for the soft band of pale pink that ran across the widest part, another for the curious curves and and chambers that were exposed. Looking closely at the shell fragments I’d picked up, I realized that each had been chosen, not because it had been part of a more beautiful whole, but because even in its brokenness it was still something unique and exquisite and worth a second look, Worth slipping into a pocket. We put such emphasis on perfection, but time and time again nature reminds us that beauty is more than the surface of any object. True beauty is in the bones and the scars and the brokenness that remains after stronger forces work against us.
I put the handful of shells into a plastic bag and slipped it into my suitcase. Years from now, when I run across them in a drawer or on a shelf on the patio, I may have forgotten where I originally found them, like so many of the sticks and stones I’ve gathered and brought home with me. The soft morning on an quiet island just beginning to warm under the morning sun will have slipped from my memory, but I am willing to bet that as I hold the broken shells in my hand I will turn them this way and that, looking closer at the soft colors and the delicate shapes, and I will find them beautiful again.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
A friend and I were discussing the way we see ourselves changes with age. That reminded me of a column I wrote a couple of years ago so I thought I would share it here…
Home Planet: Fine lines between young, old
I had an appointment to get my hair cut. Most women my age know what that means. It means an uncomfortable, critical, hour or so in front of a mirror in unforgiving light. Like it or not, you see yourself as you really are.
So, in self-defense, I put on a little lipstick, put a little color on my cheeks, before I walked out the door.
At the salon, while I thumbed through a magazine, I watched the young woman in the chair nearby. She was in her early 20s, probably just out of school, and she was very pretty. She had golden skin, big blue eyes and a beautiful smile. Her makeup – dark eyelashes and lip gloss – was skillfully done.
The stylist hovered over her like a bee buzzing around a flower, a lily gilded with foils and highlights, pulling her long blonde hair through a brush as he waved the dryer in the air. She had a date, she told him. She had a new dress and she was going dancing.
I couldn’t help but notice that as they talked and laughed, she never took her eyes off her reflection. She tilted her head, studying her face, admiring her hair. She was obviously pleased with what she saw. And why not? Crow’s feet and salt-and-pepper hair were years away. She still had a lot of growing up to do.
I sat down, my hair tousled and wet, a towel pinned around my neck. The woman who does my hair knows the drill. Just hold what we’ve got, is the implied message each time I sit in her chair. Just hold what we’ve got.
I stole a glance at myself in the mirror – at my very grown-up reflection – and quickly looked away. No use dwelling on that.
And that’s when I saw her. At the station behind me an older woman sat in a wheelchair. Her short gray hair framed her face in a no-nonsense cut. She wasn’t wearing any makeup or jewelry.
Avoiding my own face, I watched hers instead. And the more I studied her, the more beautiful she became. Not painted and pretty like the girl. Not middle-aged and holding like me. She was truly beautiful.
The woman chatted with the stylist and when she smiled her face followed a map of lines that had been etched by time. By years of happiness and heartbreak. Years of hard times and good times. Years of lessons learned and small graces. Years and years of living.
I was struck by the way she gazed directly into the mirror looking straight into her own eyes. She wasn’t entertained by her reflection, like a canary playing with its image, the way the beautiful young woman had been. But she wasn’t hiding from what she saw the way I was. She met herself without flinching, without looking away. She met herself head-on.
That, I thought to myself, is what I want to be. When I grow old and I settle into myself for the rest of the ride, I want to find that kind of peace.
I want to find that woman in the mirror.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at email@example.com
This Susan Boyle thing has sure stirred up a lot of people. We are all fascinated with her voice. Her voice is absolutely beautiful. But why are we fascinated with it? It’s actually not the voice – it’s that the majority of the people watching her, and I would guess 99.99% that were watching her, figured if her voice was anything like her body and her face, well it would probably sound like the scullery maid screeching something that didn’t come close to resembling a melody. And just as soon as I wrote that I wanted to slap my forehead. I’m ashamed of myself. I fell into the same ugly stew pot all the other “beautiful people” did around the world.
And I know better.
The remarkable thing about Ms. Boyle, to me anyway, is that she exudes confidence. She could give me lessons on beauty.
Why does “beauty” have such power in the world today? When you really think about it, roll that word over your tongue again and again, it’s hollow and shallow.
Can you imagine being in her body right now? Think about it. She has been watched by millions of people on YouTube. And why? Because she is a plain person who sings like an angel. We are all shocked, mouths open, that the unbelievable has happened. A plain person has talent. You know what’s really small-minded about all of the beautiful people? They probably think a plain person doesn’t have any brains either.