my mom used to be in beauty pageants.
it’s super weird saying that, because if you knew her [which i do], now . . . she would easily be classified as one of the most down-to-earth humans on the planet.
and i mean that [the down-to-earth part] as the highest compliment. as an example: she raises chickens and turkeys. not to eat them. just to raise them. and there’s a whole flock out in this field that just hangs out and has a great time. they make ridiculously cute sounds and my little siblings get to feed them and help take care of them. my mom goes to local businesses and collects their leftover groceries, which they will simply throw in the dumpster, and brings them home to feed her birds. because of this, she has the happiest, chubbiest, and best-loved poultry herd of all time. and all the folks from the local businesses are excited to see her and hear about her life.
she makes handmade lavender sachets out of ribbon and stalks of lavender, and then leaves them places where you might find them, and catch a whiff. she also juices everything under the sun [pomegranate, cilantro, beets] in combinations that are surprisingly nice. there’s always homemade kombucha, or kale chips topped with vegan cheese, or dried pears with lemon and ginger.
as a kid, i used to pull out a photo album off the shelf from the 1970’s. the pictures were square, as was the custom in that era, and they captured a tall, classy woman with unbelievable beauty. my mom.
it was fascinating to look at these photos. wearing sparkly gowns, her hair puffed up like a cloud, eyes sparkling, perfect white smile. she was stunning.
i remember thinking that she had it all. wearing that sash across her chest meant she had won. and not just the competition. she won at life.
i remember asking her about it. she would smile at me and share a few stories, but the biggest one that stuck with me was the following:
one year my mom won a pageant, because she was talented and beautiful and kind. there was lots of commotion and noise and celebrations, and then everybody slowly wandered off. they made comments to her like, “oh, we know you have a lot of people to talk to, and parties to attend, so we will let you get to that,” and she ended up alone. she told me that standing there by herself, all the glamour faded quickly. and she had never felt so lonely.
hearing that story as a child, i was so mystified.
she had everything. talent, beauty, attention. she was glamorous, and her life was perfect.
my mom is a strikingly beautiful woman. all my life, people [random people] would tell her that. but the woman that i saw growing up was far removed from the beauty pageant queen, who stood alone in a room because everyone assumed she was too popular for them.
she was focused on other things.
every once in a while, i would see her swipe her eyes with a mascara wand. when all my friends’ moms were coloring their hair, frantic to hide the gray, i watched her make the courageous decision to let hers go natural.
[she told me, much later, that the experience of looking at herself in the mirror was terrifying. she didn’t recognize herself. but she wanted to be real, so she let it go gray anyway].
the woman who barely worked on her appearance received compliments on her beauty constantly. and, as a teenager, i took note.
i remember asking her if she thought i should get into pageantry [which is laughable, i would trip over my own feet and crash into something]. she smiled very kindly at me and said, “it’s fleeting.”
i asked her what she meant.
“beauty,” she elaborated. “it’s fleeting.”
looking into the eyes of a woman who radiates beauty, i disagreed. but then she explained further.
that’s when i learned that what other people saw as beautiful in my mother is all the stuff that you couldn’t see.
stuff like compassion. my parents took in foster kids for 12 years, and the kindness that my mother showed to those kids [some of whom never left] was beautiful.
fun. my mom smiles and laughs all the time. there are wrinkles around her eyes because she brings joy to those around her. and when she buys toys for the kids, i think she gets more excited to play with them than the kids.
outward focus. when my mom meets a new person, or talks to an old friend, she looks at them like they are the most interesting person she’s ever talked to. she makes them feel special, and asks them questions about who they are.
originality. she’s one of a kind. unapologetic for the way that God made her to be, it’s likely that most folks are telling the truth when they say, “i’ve never met anybody quite like you.”
and the compliments? she has told me that she takes them in like flowers. and once she gets a full bouquet, hands it heavenward toward Jesus, who has given her all she has.
you can see why i want to be beautiful like her.
in a culture where a celebrity’s recent haircut is breaking news, and people are evaluated by what they have, and how they look, i am made aware every single day:
beauty is fleeting.
at least, the kind of beauty that most think of.
and it’s hollow. you can be very beautiful, and still end up in a room by yourself, wondering why you’re lonely.
i don’t know when it was decided that it was beautiful to put lots and lots of effort into outward appearance. every sunday, when i see my mom at church, she looks so beautiful. she smiles and says to me, “five minutes.”
what i know to be true is that five minutes is more than enough when your character shines the way that hers does.
what i know to be true is that in several years, i’ll look back at 27 and realize that the effort i put into my hairstyle was meaningless in comparison to the effort i put into my character.
and i also know that there are some things that echo into eternity.
and i want to think about, be about those things.
that’s truly beautiful.