firstly, thanks for the input my dear blogging friends. i like having real things to talk about once in awhile, it helps me get to know you all a bit better.
i spent some time in Uganda Africa a few years ago. a lot of incredible things happened while i was there, but there were two really significant events that continue to impact me to this day. one of them is completely unrelated. perhaps i'll share that story another time.
the story i'd like to share is about an african woman named, appropriately, joy. she operated a small ( i mean, really tiny) restaurant as a part of the "better living resource center" where we spent a lot of our days. joy was an incredible woman. i'm terrible about guessing ages and such, but i'd place her somewhere in her 50's. she was a few inches taller than me, and many inches wider. with a smile that could change your life.
i spent a night at joy's home, a small two room mud hut with no electricity, running water or plumbing. it was a rough night. joy is raising her granchildren by herself, living off of the small earnings from her restaurant. but she is oh-so content. after a night of not sleeping, being scared of all the enormous cockroaches on the walls and being terrified of going outside to use the hole-in-the-ground toilet...i was real exhausted and not in a great mood. the family woke up bright and early, and set about to do their chores. i stood with joy in the "living room" while she prepared breakfast for everyone. joy and i talked about beauty and self image. i shared with her that many american women struggle with eating disorders, and that we spend much of our lives wishing to look like someone else. joy was completely stunned. she had not heard of eating disorders. as she made breakfast from what little food she had for so many mouths, she said "american women have food to eat, but refuse to eat it?" something about the simplicity of her shock woke me up a bit.
i can remember more than a few times i've tried to will myself to have the self control to be anorexic, or the times i though "well sure, puking up that big mac makes a lot of sense." thinking back to those moments, the countless hours spent in front of my closet full of clothes, wondering why i had "nothing to wear" and pining over the wardrobe and accessories of friends and celebrities, i felt completely shallow. there i was, in a home smaller than my living room, with people who had less food in a week than i have in a day or two, who wear the same clothes day in and day out...that's humbling.
joy and i spent the next two hours talking about beauty- what it means to be beautiful, to feel beautiful, to be a woman. i so desperately wish that i'd had a tape recorder...i begged my memory to hold on to each word she said, so full of wisdom. and of course, time took its toll, and now i've forgotten all but the jist.
but i remember joy telling me that what makes us beautiful is not what we wear or do with our hair, or even necessarily who we are on the inside (although that is of course important). joy said that it's what we do with the time we're given. beauty is caring for children who have lost their parents. beauty is travelling across the world to work with orphans and people with aids. beautiful women give of their time and their means to make life better for the people around them. joy said that not only are these things beautiful, they are life itself.
who said it? "it is in giving that we receive"
i left joy's home a bit more enlightened, very humbled and quite inspired to DO beautiful things. the hard part has come in the challenge of fitting this new and "odd" definition of beauty into a society that calls sacrifice foolish. a society that somehow has me convinced that if i buy THIS hair doodad, all my frizz will be history. THAT lipgloss will give me the confidence and attention i've always wanted.
i used to be braver. i used to be more passionate about living sacrificially, minimally. i think i've lost sight of priorities to a degree. when i came back from working in the orphanage in russia and again when i returned from africa, i gave almost everything i had away. i understood the value of living simply. i was happier with less. i found the time to give.
but as i've grown up, the pursuit of more has eased it's way back into my mindset. the "old" me still lingers, whispering in the background "let it go." i work and attain and label it "security" or "responsibility" and i know it must be, at least some of it.
but have i lost the beauty i'm capable of because i'm trying so hard to manufacture it?