On Facelifts and Forgiveness
It started with a poem: Pretty, by the talented slam poet, Katie Makkai. I posted a link to her performance on my Facebook page and wrote, “wow... talk about words with power,” as much an invitation to my writer friends as an exclamation. Later that day I had plenty of “likes” and comments such as: “wow, I had to share it too;” “pretty awesome;” and “Hell Yeah!”
Then Joan posted this: “Saw this verse this morning and reminded me of your link, 1 Peter 3:3-4 (New Living Translation).”
Scripture? Really? I didn’t even finish reading it; I went immediately to Facebook’s help page to find out how to drop her.
I knew Joan from my old life; we went to a New Jersey community college together; neither of us were “religious” at the time. I moved to Pittsburgh to go to medical school; jumped the bisexual fence; adopted a son with my beloved, Pat; broke legal ground for his right to two parents; and lost track of Joan. She married Ray, her high school sweetheart; had two children; found religion; and then, some twenty years later, ‘friended’ me on Facebook.
I guess my reaction to block her posts came from my feeling peripheralized by the bible-quoting religious right. I’ve heard that I’m an abomination in their eyes, which makes me angry, and who has time for that? When asked to articulate my beliefs I say, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” In practice, I find God in nature. I rarely go to formal services, and if I do it’s to a Unitarian Universalist church, with an occasional yoga class or meditation session thrown in.
But life being what life is, it didn’t end there. The next morning, I found this email from Joan in my inbox:
I am so sorry if the scripture I felt paralleled the video offended or hurt you in any way. I have a little calendar my brother gave with daily verse it just happened to be the verse for the 28th, and that video just came to mind when I read it. That little video really got me thinking (pondering). I have actually been thinking of a face-lift for quite some time. (Always looking in the mirror tugging on my brow pulling back my face. Ray can tell you, Ha) I found it odd I would be obsessing over this and muttered a little prayer, god if you don't think I should do this then take away the desire for it. Then I saw this video, which gets to the core.... One of the things I have always loved about you is the depth and vulnerability of your soul, it's a gift of character you do not find often and it can be intriguing, refreshing, uncomfortable, cool, thought provoking. Anyway please do not feel bad at all about FB thing, it should be a joy for you and if anything disrupts it...let it go. I would.
Busted. I guess I’d been naïve to think she wouldn’t know that I’d blocked her. Now, I had to face it directly. I went for a walk, a long walk. On my return I collected my scattered thoughts like the piles of crisp fall leaves I’d just been swishing through. Here’s what I came up with:
Joan, thanks for the kind words. I guess I didn't know that you'd know I blocked you on FB. Now that you do, and since you were so kind as to write a “peace note” to me despite it, I’ll tell you about why. It’s simple, really. As a lesbian and life-long worker in women's rights, I have been hurt (and, maybe more importantly, many of the people I love have been hurt) seriously by, if I may, "the religious right". Honestly, I do not count you in that, as I have never, ever felt judged harshly by you. But I must admit quoting scripture does scare me; I think that right around the corner there will be a very hurtful statement (including, though it is not always obvious to the person who says so, "forgive the sinner not the sin"). So, once I saw scripture quoted, I felt it safest for my mental health (and the friends who see my page) to block it. Sorry if it hurt you in any way, 'cause I understand spiritual, I understand inspirational readings (my favorites happen to come from the Buddhist tradition), and I believe with all my heart you have a right, maybe even an obligation, to live your life in a way that makes you happy inside, cause if you're happy inside, "at peace" as it were, you're likely doing well by the world (and this includes, by the way, a facelift).
Later that day, I had lunch with Kathy, my bible-quoting sister-in-love. [Since I’m all about the power of words today, bear with me while I deconstruct that last sentence. I want you to notice that I have to invent new words for my life; she’s not my sister-in-law, because marriage to my love of 27 years is not (yet) lawful. This is due, for the most part, to those whose religious beliefs bleed onto their politics. Also, “bible-quoting” is an easy summary of Kathy for this piece, but it is constricted and somewhat derogatory and required a pre-blog email where I tried to excuse it. She said “…if that is the worst thing someone could say about me than I'm not doing too badly! :)”]. At lunch I spilled the beans to Kathy about my Facebook faux pas. I’m indebted to her for my embryonic ability to see the situation with Joan in a new light. She told me that Joan might feel peripheralized by me, by my leftist politics. That was a revelation for me; it seems like “they’re” always in charge. In my own mini-search for sanity (ironically all this happened while Jon Stewart held his March for Sanity), I went back to Joan’s post and read it:
“3 Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. 4 You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.”
Well, I basically agree with that. Her religion isn’t mine, and my politics aren’t hers. I’ll continue to be nervous when I hear scripture quoted and I’ll go on fighting for GLBT and women's rights. I’ll fight for her right to a facelift as I work towards a culture where it is not needed. Just as I suspect she’ll work toward a culture where human and civil rights prevail and the need for abortion goes down.
And I hope she’ll hit Accept when I re-friend her on Facebook.
Pretty, by Katie Makkai
When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother “What will I be? Will I be pretty?” Will I be pretty? Will I be pretty? What comes next? Oh right, will I be rich which is almost pretty depending on where you shop. And the pretty question infects from conception passing blood and breath into cells. The word hangs from our mothers’ hearts in a shrill of fluorescent floodlight of worry.
“Will I be wanted? Worthy? Pretty? But puberty left me this funhouse mirror dry add: teeth set at science fiction angles, crooked nose, face donkey-long, and pox-marked where the hormones went finger-painting my poor mother.
“How could this happen? You’ll have porcelain skin as soon as we can see a dermatologist.” “You sucked your thumb. That’s why your teeth look like that! ” “You were hit in the face with a Frisbee when you were six, otherwise your nose would have been fine! ”
Don’t worry; we will get it all fixed she would say, grasping my face, twisting it this way and that as if it were a cabbage she might buy. But, this is not about her. Not her fault she, too, was raised to believe the greatest asset she could bestow upon her awkward little girl was a marketable appearance.
By sixteen I was pickled by ointments, medications, peroxides. Teeth corralled into steel prongs, laying in a hospital bed. Face packed with gauze, cushioning the brand new nose the surgeon had carved.
Belly gorged on two pints of my own blood I had swallowed under anesthesia, and every convulsive twist, like my body screaming at me from the inside out “What did you let them do to you? ” All the while this never-ending chorus groaning on and on like the IV needle dripping liquid beauty into my blood.
“Will I be pretty? ” Will I be pretty like my mother, unwrapping the gift-wrap to reveal the bouquet of daughter her $10,000 bought her? Pretty? Pretty.
And now I have not seen my own face in ten years. I have not seen my own face in ten years, but this is not about me! This is about the self-mutilating circus we have painted ourselves clowns in. About women who will prowl thirty stores in six malls to find the right cocktail dress, but haven’t a clue where to find fulfillment or how to wear joy, wandering through life shackled to a shopping bag, beneath those two pretty syllables.
This, this is about my own some-day daughter. When you approach me, already stung-stayed with insecurity, begging, “Mom, will I be pretty? Will I be pretty? , ” I will wipe that question from your mouth like cheap lipstick and answer no.
The word pretty is unworthy of everything you will be, and no child of mine will be contained in five letters. You will be pretty intelligent, pretty creative, pretty amazing, but you will never be merely “pretty.” Katie Makkai