Friday, July 13, 2012

I Am Not.

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."

Immeasurable, shattering....truth.

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.

I am not my body.


Stuff and Nonsense said...

well actually

i am one of the lucky ones
who does know the slope of your nose
and the lovely hue of your hair

but her story
is one that always stops me cold
whenever i come across it

painfully hopeful
and surprisingly joy-filled

but still
this is one hard hard lesson
to learn

how to not be bound

for better or worse

by the skin i'm in


Anonymous said...

The soul is the only thing that lives forever.

Shelly said...

What a heart booster! She has found the sacred truth, which you shared so eloquently. This body part of us is not eternal, as our souls are, and yet we place so much more value on it. I am reminded of what Christopher Reeve said when he was paralyzed, "I'm still me."

Thank you for this reminder today.

terlee said...

You leave me breathless. And how glad I am to know you through your words, no matter your outward appearance. Your soul glows, and that I can see clearly.

Anonymous said...

Any ignominious violations that have left me chilled & cavernous ..they were never the violations that were so easily visible. But, I readily admit, if I'd gone through what that woman has, I doubt I would have her strength of spirit in any sense.

Lo said...

What a marvelous blog........fabulous truths beautifully expressed.

Actually, we who attain a really old age experience a bit of what that woman did.......when you literally cannot recognize the person in the mirror you have, in a sense, lost your face. I see that stranger every day now and do not know her, but what is inside is very familiar, thank heaven.

Robbie Grey said...

Beautiful and amazing. The mantra of you are not your body reminds me of a line from the film Zen Noir; "My name is not me...not who I am."

See Kate run. said...

What a blessing. You give an eloquent reminder to plant and sow at soul-level.

Shea Goff said...

I love this. I once saw a BBC special entitled Faces that featured a woman who had been born with a disfigurement which could have been corrected through a series of surgeries. She was in her twenties and had refused to be anyone other than who she was born. I admired her strength and refusal to conform.

I have often thought I am what I say and see which, like you, makes this venue a nice little home for me.

Much love, my friend.

Out on the prairie said...

A very lovely read

Mary said...

It's always heartwarming to see someone who can come out of a horrible situation and still see the wonder in life and go on..not just thrive.

Chantel said...

Ali--so very true. I fear I am far from learning this--but setting out with purpose is the beginning of every journey, right?


Shelly--the Reeve story always fills me with joy. Such strength!

Terlee--thank you love, I hope I am so much more than my body...

Mary--me too, I want to get there...perhaps with time.

Lo--thank you, I was actually thinking along those lines as well. I even see a bit of a stranger in that mirror now...yet still feel 25 inside. I can only imagine the years to come, but hope that I can find a friend in that mirror--one that has earned every wrinkle.

Robbie--thank you, and now I'm going to have to look up that film! :)

Kate--love the planting analogy, life is a series of growing seasons, isn't it? Some of my crops have been amazing....some, more weeds than intended.

Shea--thank you, I think I will look for that special. So strong so young, amazing!

Prairie--thank you!

Chantel said...

Mary--(you snuck in while I was writing) Yes, doing more than just surviving is an inspiration, sometimes we need to be reminded how strong we can be.

Christine Macdonald said...

This post hits home for me on a personal level. My issues with my skin are nowhere near as horrific, but I have been on a journey, nonetheless.

We all have, in our own way.

Nine surgeries on my face to remedy my scarring, and over 30 years learning to live in my skin, and I'm still learning.

This post serves as another teacher.

Thank you.


ND Mitchell said...

"Life seems often a play; we choose costumes....but the soul is eternal" is a brilliant line. This is all so true. Thanks for reminding us...

Matt said...

Dear Chantel, you write arguably the most engaging of all the blogs that I frequent. It's always a pleasure to read you and be left with that imprint that keeps the mind ticking over long after closing the browser window.

Anonymous said...

an excellent and timely message Chandra. one which many woman need
being that society has placed a
huge burden on us about our appearence.

I agree, to write for me is to be.
and I am truly thankful for the handful of my poems that are published.

Chantel said...

Christine--ah love, I've seen the pics on your site and my heart breaks for what you've been through. Pain has such power--some it destroys, but some it hones and molds and shapes into something lovely...and you are lovely indeed. xo

David--thanks for coming by!

Matt--how often you make me smile, the wonderful things you say. Thank you.

Paige--I lose my lipgloss and curls when I write...I love that magic that skips all the skin and reveals the heart.

The Loerzels said...

Beautifully written Chantel!

Brian Miller said...

wow this is a powerful story...and truth in that we are not our body...we are so much more...and for years we have been sold a lie until we believe it as gospel...and but all the products to make us something we are not...we are not our body...nice

The Empress said...

Oh my gosh yes.

And how we treat ourselves in such a sad way: telling ourselves that WE ARE OUR BODIES.

Thank you. A whispered from my soul, thank you.

Carrie Lynne said...

Amen sister Amen!

Susan Struck said...

Oh, that is a lesson that I had such trouble grasping in my younger years... I am not my body. Later, after working as an oncology nurse and later a hospice nurse, I came to appreciate my body, not for the looks of it, but simply because it WORKED. My blood cells reproduce normally, my esophagus allows food to pass, my lungs exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules, my legs carry me around, etc. I am not my body but I have learned to be grateful for it, no matter how it looks.

Chantel said...

Marie--thank you!

Brian--and such a lie; it overwhelms us, eats up the years...attempting to change, alter. When what resides inside is the beauty--somehow I think this electric world has made that more evident to me.

Empress--adore you so. xo

Carrie Lynne--if only I were better about this every morning...

Susan--very true, this amazing flesh that holds our souls...magnificent, isn't it? But it is only the beginning, the shell that holds the irreplaceable you.

Anonymous said...

I recently saw this story as well, or at least one very similar to it. I was also humbled by her attitude. That she was not bitter was hard for me to comprehend. I am not sure that in the same situation, I would have been able to be the strong, confident, accepting person she is.

I see your point that exterior beauty/flesh is temporary, but I do think it's important for us to truly believe we are beautiful on the outside. You aren't your flesh, but you should still love it, care for it, and be proud of it because it's part of you.

Mel Heth said...

Wow. I can think of so many people who would benefit from reading this. I hope you don't mind, but I think I'm going to have to share it.

The mind and body are fascinating siblings. We're talking about mind/body stuff a lot in my life coach class right now and it has made me so aware of how the body is really just a tool for the soul to use. It's the meter that displays measures of intuition. It's the carriage that moves the soul around the earth. Although it is not WHO we are, it is such an essential implement for us to use. Like those fingers of yours that wrote such a beautiful post...