I recently heard the story of a woman who had been burned. The kind of horror that would normally end in death; it was past disfiguring...beyond ghastly. In fact, it had left ghastly somewhere in another state and drove on for days.
She lost her face.
Now this was actually a tale of victory. The strength of the human soul is astounding. I find myself in mesmerized awe of people like this--beings that seem to have hearts made of an interminable flame; they never stop, never relinquish, never surrender. I have faith that we are not given what we cannot handle; though in the moment, this may be a bare thread I cling to, a rope frayed and unraveled. There have indeed been days of anguish when I have whispered to myself, "today is just tomorrow's yesterday" over and over in order to survive. But survive, I did.
This woman, she did more than survive. She conquered. She rode side by side with Death and then laughed at his amateur antics. She was astounding. She was magnificent. She was beautiful--in every sense of that word--which floored me. We all know how a person's "inside" effects how we see or feel about them. Remember that really handsome fellow that made your heart pound--until you heard him berate the waitress and make fun of the guy in glasses? Suddenly he wasn't so handsome. Or that woman with the body of a Greek goddess....who turned out to have the mouth of a sailor and the mind of a Dynasty gold-digger? (Run, Forest, ruuuun!) Life seems often a play; we choose costumes....but the soul is eternal.
They had rebuilt her face. They tried so hard. Doctors with kind hands and kinder hearts had spent hundreds of hours researching and planning, removing skin here to put it there. Sewing and tucking, attempting the impossible. So calm, she sat there. Twisted scar tissue where lips should be.
"It took me two years to learn that I am not my body."
I have lain awake for hours, this running like a movie looped, in my mind. Her face, her body....the agony represented there that has taken years to overcome, entire months living floating in a saline tank. She radiated peace as if she were the sun. She was the embodiment of light and joy and serenity. She was beautiful.
I feel the entire meaning of life might be summed up in that one sentence. We live trapped within the flesh granted us and spend decades adjusting it. Shifting it to arrange the fit; painting and dyeing and cloaking it. All the while, we are granted opportunity after opportunity to learn the futility of this. We judge and assess and classify--on something as substantial as the wind. So mortal, so temporary.
You are not your flesh.
I tell my students, (I've taken on a college english class from time to time) that they must write. That all that is their soul, what they have ever felt or thought will be lost forever when they die, if they do not. That everything they've done and discovered and learned will not matter if they do not write. That they will eventually be forgotten, if they do not write.
Letters and words are the landscape of the soul.
It is here that I am seen, unencumbered. My children have my face etched upon their hearts....but you do not. You don't know the freckles on my nose or the tattoo on my ankle or the length of my auburn hair. For really, it does not matter, flesh so corporeal.
As I type this, I wonder how my life would change, should I lose my face. Every physical interaction would be altered. From the market to the bank to my marriage. Neighbors and strangers in passing cars. They would stare, survey, appraise me. But not here. Here you and I would still meet, linger...share. For here is it only the soul.