How we look

So, Renee Zellweger has been in the news in the last day because she emerged from her chosen seclusion to attend an event.  She does not look like she used to; had I not read the photo caption, I would not have thought it was her.  There’s been a lot of ink spilled about all of that, about how aging women are not allowed to be saggy AND gray AND beautiful, about why someone would undergo the knife, etc. etc.

photo (6)I read the story yesterday, after I woke up and looking like this first thing in the  morning.   I had fallen asleep early the night before and not taken off my mascara, and I use this awesome paste in my hair that creates hair sculptures while I sleep.  I texted the photo to my best friend who told me I am a good person.  Not a word about how I look, which is why I consider her my best friend.

Why does our appearance matter?  What does it matter if our facial features are perfectly symmetrical, or if we have a unibrow and moustache, if we’re rail thin or cellulite-dappled?  What does it matter if our hair is perfectly coiffed and colored or happily messy and silver streaked?

I know the answer.  Society says our looks matter; God says they don’t.  We live caught somewhere between those competing sentiments. In last week’s sermon I said this: “Maybe we will be a church that sees the face of Christ in everyone we meet. We belong to God because we look like Christ. We are created in God’s image.”

It never occurred to me to look for the face of Christ in Renee Zellweger.  I have no idea if she is a person of faith, but that’s not the point.  I think the point is to look beyond the surface to the humanity and the holiness.  Maybe Renee is a woman struggling with her professional life and her mortality.  Maybe she doesn’t give a damn.  Maybe her looks are none of our business.

I will admit that some people make it hard to see the face of Christ, and it has nothing to do with appearance. We hate their attitude or their actions, or we judge them, or we belittle them.  Why would the spirit of Christ reside in such an ugly person?  That’s the challenge – where is this person’s holiness or humanity?  How might God be speaking to us through them?

Head-of-ChristThen I think about the images of Christ that have been created over the millenia which look nothing like what a first century semitic male would have looked like.  I might make fun of a golden haired, peachy skinned Jesus, but I wouldn’t make fun of a Jesus with Asian features or African features.  I would respect that the artist in a different culture was trying to express that Jesus was theirs, too.  I hesitate at the blonde white Jesuses because of the assumption that if Jesus could have chosen, he really would have wanted to be an American.  Maybe that’s not what Warner Sallman and his like were getting at.  But still.

I don’t know what Jesus looked like.  I don’t know what Renee Zellweger would look like if she hadn’t, presumably, had work done.  I do know that over the years I’ve done a little plucking here and there to change my appearance, and as I’ve lived with this face for fifty years, I know how I look and accept it.

But do others struggle to see the face of Christ in mine?

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And now we are women

We were so young then. Our parents would laugh at that, of course, from their vantage point; to them, we are still young, will always be young, or at least younger than they are.

Just to say that is to acknowledge that we know each other’s parents, a luxury not found among friends made in later adulthood, when we don’t have friends to the house for the weekend, when the parents aren’t there for graduations and weddings because those have all past and are now the things that belong to our children and not to us. It is lovely to reconnect with old friends, the friends who knew you when. It’s not so much a feast of nostalgia as much as it is an unexpected delight to discover an old friend in her adult years, to see her shaped by career and marriage and parenthood and aging parents and disappointment and hardship, knowing that the laughs we once shared have been sustaining, at least a little, even as the reconnection hints at laughs yet to come.

My friends are amazing women. They have grown into their beauty: the natural gray highlights, the eye creases that make smiles more real, the knowledge now of what to do with eyebrows and moustaches and lipstick. Our bodies that grew babies are different, but we’re still the types we were: the amazon; the chubby one who has such a pretty face; the long-legged beauty; the chesty one who fretted over their size but secretly loved them.

Personalities are being distilled; we’re not as concentrated as our parents are becoming, but still we are more us than we were in our late teens and early twenties. We looked forward to conquering the world, or at least our little corner of it. One would become a Broadway star, another, a PR tycoon, another, a world-traveling lawyer.

And we did some of that but never as much as we dreamed of. Instead, we discovered the elegance of compromise, and learned for ourselves, with regret and relief, that we can’t have it all, and maybe we never really did want it all. We gave up a little here so that we could have a little there; our choices became more nuanced and sometimes we let go of who we were in order to reach out to who we would be. But that moment between the letting go and the new holding was terrifying, so we had our moments of lostness, too.

We were girls of such privilege and potential. We were beloved and lightly scarred, scarred by the mere rejections and the slightly broken hearts and the friendships that were (we realized in retrospect) a bit forced. Some of the friendships survived and deepened and some faded into a shrugged memory. Some will get picked up where they left off only to dive into the deep end where new things are treasured. A laconic attitude is now appreciated as gentleness and deliberateness. A desire to please has morphed into a sharp perception and unflagging honesty. But a good laugh is still a good laugh, and a delight in each other is still just that: delight.

beach nh

A New Thing

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I’ve been feeling old lately.  I have a tear in some tissue in my hip that’s causing me no small amount of pain and discomfort and causing me to limp.  I’ve decided to stop coloring my hair and am a bit surprised by just how much gray I have.  I turn 50 this year, and, well, that’s not the age of a young person.

This week I attend a church conference – a really good church conference – and I feel both old and strangely young and renewed and a bit excited about the future.  Because here’s the thing, at least for me as I limp into the conclusion of my fiftieth year: I’m not really afraid of the things I used to be afraid of.  I don’t really get too excited about pies in my face, epic fails, minor fails, or not being one of the Beautiful People in whatever circle I happen to be traveling.

There is a great freedom in not fearing failure. (I am so sorry for that alliteration.)  Not fearing failure opens up so many doors.  I lived whole lot of my life not doing things because I was afraid I would not do them well, or not be able to do them at all.  And that’s a terrible way to live – a safe way, yes, but a terrible way.  It’s more existence than living, really, and since we only get one go-round on this life thing, maybe we should live it.

Because I’ve been at this church conference, I think about what it means for the church to live and not merely exist.  Maybe some of you who read this blog don’t care much about the churchy posts, so you can just skip this one.  But my vocation and avocation are in the church, the mainline Protestant church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  This is the church that raised me, formed me, challenged my, called me, disappointed me, bored me, inspired me, gave me the best friends one could ask for, and where I found my husband.  It’s the church into which I was baptized and in which I was ordained and married.  I love this church and I want it to live, and not just exist.

That’s true for the congregation I serve.  I am blessed beyond measure to have been called, with my husband, to serve where I do.  There are not mean people in this congregation.  There are not people who complain after every worship service, no people who leave snarky notes in my hymnal.  They are lovely, faithful, honest people, and I hope they are ready because I think I am going home from this conference ready to light some fires under our collective patookies.  (Please substitute your favorite euphemism here.)

One of my favorite lines from the musical Mame is “life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  Well, little baby Jesus grew up and gave us a banquet and we act as though we’re getting soda crackers and room temperature water most of the time.  To hell with that – literally.  To hell with the tepidness and things that won’t upset our stomachs.  To hell with fear, because that’s where it belongs.

Come Sunday, I’ll be limping into the chancel because of my hip.  But I’ll be dancing on the inside, up to the pulpit and around the table and down the aisle.

Join me!

Estate Sale

estate saleThis morning, at 5:07 am, as I was trying to fall back asleep after my daughter with the runny nose had crawled into bed, I heard two car doors close.  A few minutes later (still awake) I heard another car door close.  Then I drifted off.  At 6:30, I went downstairs, chatted with my husband about the new puppy, and noticed a line of people outside our neighbor’s house.  At 7:00, when I left to go for a walk, the line was longer and there was no street parking available anywhere nearby.  At 7:30, when I returned, the line of people went around the corner, and more people were coming, some carrying folding chairs.

As it turns out, my neighbor was having an estate sale; better put, my neighbor’s attorney was having an estate sale on her behalf.  My neighbor is still alive, but since last summer has been living in a care facility.  When we moved here a year and a half ago, we didnt’ meet her but we met her caregivers, three of them, who provided 24-hour care.  She grew up in that house and lived there ninety-something years; she never married, she had no family, only her caregivers.  At least once a month we would see an ambulance out front, and she would be taken to the hospital for a few days, only to return.  I don’t know what precipitated the final move to the care facility.  I only know that the house has sat empty for the last nine months.

the nosy neighbor

the nosy neighbor from Bewitched

Last week there was a landscaping crew out there, trimming trees, mowing the lawn.  I should have known something was up. Last night, in a Gladys Kravitz sort of way, I peeked out the front window straining my eyes to read the signs that were taped to the garage.  Couldn’t read ’em.  Went to bed.  Woke up early, got annoyed quickly.

But after a day of cars coming and going, the line of people stretching and dwindling like pulled taffy, I ventured across the street, much more interested in the house itself than the stuff for sale inside.  Some friendly people from the estate-sale-planning place were out front.  I went in through the garage into the basement.  A beautiful inlaid wood table here, some old skies there.  A makeshift bedroom.  A laundry room.  At narrow, steep staircase up, which I took.   Three bedrooms, one off limits, kitchen, eating nook, living room, presumably a bathroom somewhere.  And people.  Lots of people.  Lots of people going through lots of stuff.

I did look at the stuff, but doing it felt wrong and creepy.  I have no problem with estate sales, garage sales, thrift stores, Goodwill, any of it.  I think it’s great that people reuse old things.  But I felt like a voyeur, going through my neighbor’s house, wondering whose wedding dress that was, since my neighbor never married.  Had she been engaged, called things off, got left at the altar?  And the pink dishes – was pink her favorite color?  Were they old Fiestaware, worth something?   Was she a skier, and if so, why did she have more than one set? It smelled as though a pet had lived there, but I don’t recall ever seeing one.

One woman was going through a box of old photos, and that’s what just about did me in.  She went through those photos, keeping some, leaving others.  Why?  I can’t imagine she knew the woman, or the people in the photos.  Was she an artist, collecting objects for a collage?  Did she have a fascination with old black and whites?  Was there something sinister in her desire for photos of people she didn’t know?

I think a lot about the stuff I’ve accumulated in my life.  We have three sets of china – china we registered for when we got married, china that belonged to my grandmother, china that belonged to my husband’s grandmother.  Will my daughter want all that china?  Will I get rid of it before she is saddled with that decision when I’m old and demented and in a care facility?  And what about all the photos – and I mean all the photos?  Should I organize them, label them, scrapbook them, scan them, or every ten years go through them and get rid of the ones that don’t matter any more?

Do I want some stranger rifling through my things?  Do I want my daughter to have to rifle through my things?

I think about the things that we accumulate because they have meaning to us.  They are memories and mementos, reminders of who we once were, a Girl Scout, a debater, a musical theater geek; a camp counselor, a teacher, a student body president; a granddaughter, a divorcee, a roommate.

I don’t expect my daughter to find meaningful the things that I have found meaningful.  She will choose her own memories and mementos.  I imagine a few will be of my husband and me, but she will collect things unique to her, to her life, to her experience.  She should feel free to let go of those things of mine that have no meaning for her – but not till I’m gone.

In the end, while I do believe in holding fast to what is good, sometimes it is better to let go of what was good, once.