Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that crushed it.—Mark Twain
I awaken from my first full night of sleep in weeks. Lemony sun shines in the window, and when I stand I feel a hint of the life force that faded during my two-week illness. In my spiritual practice my body fills with luminosity, a lightness of being that is pure freedom.
But afterward, when I look in the mirror, I see the toll of these weeks. Blue shadows hang below my eyes and a mustard tint masks my skin.
Normally I would shrug this off, but today it matters. In just a few hours I am to sit in front of a video camera to give a testimonial for my dentist.
I call on my Beloved and remember that I am soul.
It is no big deal, I tell myself as I apply powder to my cheeks. I smooth away the blotchy patches. I conceal the shadows under my eyes. With a mascara wand I take extra strokes, as do I with my lipstick. I even dig through the back of my closet to find a curling iron to add life to my limp hair.
The videographer, who is one of my closest friends, encourages me through the session. “You look fabulous!” she says. I happily voice praise of my dentist and friend of 20 years, Dr. Richard Parker. It’s a wrap. The videographer packs up her camera and heads out, while I go on with my day.
The next afternoon I receive a link to a rough cut of the video. When my testimonial comes on, I gasp. I look like a faded waif, pale, with too much lipstick and eye makeup. The lighting is so bright it melds me into the yellow wall behind. I take a breath and recognize my vanity.
It’s fine, I tell myself. No problem. I send a congratulations email to the videographer.
But over the next few hours my mind will not let it go. It’s as though Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard has occupied my insides and keeps calling for a new close-up.
I take a walk and with each step call on my Beloved. I talk to my vanity in an attempt to get it to stand down. I recognize that I am more than this physical body, and yet I can’t let the issue go. To compound it, I have heard my friend discuss her challenges with shooting baby boomers over the years, who often scorn their video appearance. I don’t want to be like them.
It’s the lighting that’s the problem, I determine. When I arrive home I send an email to the videographer saying the light was too bright—it blazed out the mid-tones. We have to reshoot.
I receive an immediate reply. She is pleased with the outcome—no reshoot necessary. Her message carries the same cutting vibe as did the one I sent. Of course, we always get back what we give.
I’m infuriated with her reply. “Can’t she see?” I ask my cat.
I pace my kitchen. By now night has settled in. I suspect my sleep is in jeopardy, and with it my fragile remission from my recent health challenge. Worse yet, my dear friend is now upset with me, and I with her.
My mother calls, and after hearing my dilemma, suggests an impasse. I follow her counsel. With what little humility I can muster I email my friend. I tell her I love her, admit that I’m sorting through this and ask her to simply hold until I’m clear.
I sleep a few hours and awaken, my limbs restless. So I rise at midnight and ask the Beloved to guide me. With that loving presence at my side, I sweep the floor, prune the geraniums and clean a linen closet. While I do this, shards of illusion present themselves. I see how much I have relied on my appearance in order to secure love, from my family, in relationships and in my work as a journalist.
I recognize that the love is within me, not something that comes from without. I return to bed to sleep a few more hours.
I awaken with an odd peace. During my spiritual practice more truth ignites. Maybe it’s okay that I care how I look in the video. Maybe it’s fine that I’m vain. My physical appearance, my vanity, these are only small spokes on the great wheel of who I am. I can accept and love those parts.
I go to my computer and tentatively open an email from my friend the videographer.
“Lesley,” she writes.” Let’s do a reshoot, whenever you’re feeling better. I am in no hurry.”
My heart settles.
The reshoot will come, and likely I won’t be thrilled with my 50-something appearance. But maybe I’ll look a little healthier. Most of all, I will know that I am not this physical body, nor am I this vanity. Instead I am the very life force itself, on a great journey through eternity.
I am pure beauty in spirit.
I am soul.
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