by Julie Leppert
I am a woman.
Those four monosyllabic words, but one, echo as if
the five syllables have slipped off a shiny chord
and fallen into an unforeseen well, and they echo
like concentric rings rippling somewhere inside my soul:
I am a woman.
What might it mean?
(She laughs, whatever it means!)
We might surprise each other with a kaleidoscope of shapes and colors of womenness.
Being woman means many things (of course it does).
We could start a list at sunrise and grow it long and old
like our grandmothers by their rose hedges at sundown.
But one thing for certain, one wild and daring
possibility the world-over knows,
being a woman — old or young — means Beauty.
At the core, that trips me.
Beauty speaks a language directly to my soul. The images of Beauty dance visibly, tangibly, across an azure atmospheric stage, constellations cast upon a darkening, twilit sky. Some arrest me. Some repulse me. Some of them remind me of tales tucked inside the pages of gold-embossed storybooks of girlhood.
It’s the story of the centuries, this one — women and Beauty.
Cinema tells it most visibly, most violently, most often.
But, it’s out there, isn’t it? Outside of us. That’s manageable.
Distance keeps Beauty safe.
Until it shows up
on the kitchen countertop
in a clear glass vase
a dozen red roses
I blush and match the color of the unfolding bouquet. I feel suddenly shy — shy that he saw something in me worthy enough of Beauty. Wondering how long I can keep the Beauty fresh, alive, or if its petals may wilt by morning.
The touch of Beauty comes nearer, nearer than the blinking, twinkling sky overhead.
I am made vulnerable at its nearness.
The moment I suspect Beauty dwells within me, I unravel.
You see, Beauty alone enters our story of pain or pleasure inside private places where no one else may go – unless invited.
Even if intruded upon, those places still remain, somehow, closed.
And when it comes to the telling,
of talking about Beauty openly, for me, at least,
odd things happen to my body, physically.
My voice cracks and the notes I’m feeling deep-down get pinched or diminished as they cross the threshold of my vocal chords; and I’m pretty sure that Brene Brown, author of “Daring Greatly,” would say I’m engaging vulnerability or leaning into it at that moment.
Of course my body is going to have an opinion about it.
Yet, in spite of the noisy opinion, I’m going to sing it brave,
to sing the song aloud, to say it stronger with crescendo,
to carry the conversation to sisters ALL who share secret, private dreams untold,
who doubt themselves but need most of all
to believe the truth:
“Woman, YOU are BEAUTIFUL.”
Something trembles beneath my feet.
The words split the terra firma and
Danger rumbles throatily
Like chanting that draws
Acrid fumes from a pit,
filling the atmosphere and
stifling my breathing.
I am woman
to believe it (wholly)
reply to the
noisome turbulence of
and I realize something:
I am not the first woman to choke on her own soul over beauty issues and I won’t be the last either. You see, it’s like this:
Ours — this one — is a life or death conversation.
Girls and women die because of #Beauty issues.
So, for the record, I’m joining the conversation — the one all women should consider; the one we tell ourselves as we stand in front of our mirrors, as we slip cotton or silk fashions across tired limbs and mottled skin, some more toned, some loose from long wear, soft yet firm.
Our hearts beat. We gaze at sunsets and sunrises day after day, and again and again our souls leap when our eyes take in the vast watery expanse reflecting a holy baptism of blood-wash and sparkling rays that blind the eyes and we know this:
Beauty can save a life (or slay it)
It can become a place of safety, a
refuge, for women and daughters,
for sons and their fathers,
for soldiers and widows,
Beauty can ___. Yes. It can.
Or it can be mishandled.
Do I need to tell the stories detailing how it is so? I prefer not to tell them. The newspapers do it daily. It’s big business.
I want to ask you this, though, as a woman to women:
How do we write (or talk) about a thing when life throws you into a world that begins shaping you before you’ve slid through the birth canal (with no memory of doing so, with no memory of choosing, with no sensory impression, no memory of feeling wholly, beautifully safe), as if you’ve been stripped down to your infant soul-skin, bared and exposed, indefinitely, and find yourself standing one day in the aging gale-winds of womanhood — suddenly on top of a cliff while, far below, you hear and see and smell the salted memories of terrible, dark-churning waters?
For some of us beauty is like that;
it means danger first and foremost.
We may attempt to lean out over it, bared wholly, feeling the wind lash us.
Daring to touch it, a flame gone wild, risking our skin, not knowing why.
Maybe remembering that once we had been safe, and beautiful,
desperate for its wellness once more.
Exiting the safety of our mother’s womb, we were swaddled and wrapped warmly. Most of us were, in fact, wrapped safely — and we grew securely,
The world is unsafe.
We learn it young, one way or another.
As women, we learn it well.
The uproar of beauty hurled into the wind blows through me and has never ceased – from forgotten first-cry until now it calls to me as I battle the wildness of this refrain – and women know it as they know their own reflections:
So frail to
stand upon holy
bending like a sea pink bouquet
into an Irish gale-storm
pounding, roaring, wailing
Like Eve without her Garden and like the prophet who stood in the presence of holy Omnipotence, we exhale a pain akin to theirs that writhes into audible sounds, a like confession, “I am undone.”
Wondering if anyone sees us, or notices —
Wondering if they see our nakedness, scanning, with our eyes moving in furtive glances as shame pulls soul-lights down like coffin lids, we hide, we turn from the beauty.
It’s too much.
Yes, like Eve on the outside of Eden, looking on with longing. Our home. Our place. Lost. Beauty fades and she becomes surrounded now by a world, like us, in travail. She turns. And walks away.
And it’s dangerous.
Our relationship with Beauty is.
Yet saying so is like tossing the key to the fountain-heads of the Pacific into the sea itself. It doesn’t really help.
Yes. It does get complicated.
But Beauty calls us to hope.
This is just the start.
The conversation has begun.
Where does Beauty fit into your life, dear sister?
Do you feel beautiful?
Do you feel shy when it touches you? Do you feel safe when it draws near?
Give it some thought.
And you may join Heart Working Women (here) for the second of a 3-part harmony.
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Julie Leppert ~ lives in the rolling foothills of South Central, Pennsylvania, where she grew up playing in creeks, climbing trees, making mud pies, and pretending she was brave like the heroines in storybooks. Today she writes to inspire others to risk living “brave” in their own stories and to seek life-giving connection with Jesus Christ, the One who sets us free. (Ephesians 2)