I was all prepared to be catty...
I had seen the ads for days: Meg Ryan was going to be on Oprah after two years of living outside the spotlight. What happened at the end of her marriage? What is she up to now? There was an image of her with what appeared to be a traditional Indian marking on her forehead; is she now a Hindu? Is there a new baby? If so, does that mean there is another man in her life? Plus there were the obvious signs of a facelift: overstuffed lips, cheeks a little too puffy and a little too high. Her hair was long; was that an attempt to cover her newly adjusted ears? So I settled into a comfy and cozy position on my bed yesterday afternoon with my journal and colored pens at the ready. I was prepared to rip her pampered life to shreds. How dare she be rich, beautiful, and undergo surgery - and still hope to gain favor with me? Not likely, Miss Meg; not likely at all.
Oprah introduced her, and out she sauntered. She's got that hippy strut, that loose gait that I've always loved; she's not model-straight, and impeccably groomed. She is who she is, tall, lanky, and unpretentious. She flopped down into her chair, looked out at the audience, turned towards Oprah with her newly raised, tucked, pulled, and filled face, and peering out from her big blue eyes was fear, insecurity, and unsureness - all the same stuff that plague all of us at some point in our lives, for most of our lives, really. She knew that we all knew that she'd "had work done," but neither she nor Oprah mentioned it during the show.
She talked about the pain of divorce after five years of knowing her marriage was no longer working. She talked about wishing her marriage wouldn't end, that some hope for revival existed, and recounted her sorrow over the pain the divorce caused her son, Jack. Despite the screaming headlines and exaggerated tabloid spreads accusing her of leaving her husband for Russell Crowe, the truth is that her marriage was over long before that relationship began. Her eyes and smile brightened noticeably when she spoke of her newly adopted daughter, Daisy True. She said that her daughter's open smile, energetic, loving, and beautiful spirit has infused her home with newness and laughter again.
Over and over, she spoke of being confused by the tales told about her in the press, the way that most people forget she's a real person and imbue her with qualities that they think she should have instead of accepting her for who she is. She spoke of how odd all the attention is to being on "the red carpet," to being an actress, to being in the public eye. She wants friends she can trust, children she can love, and a life she can enjoy. She was real. She was honest. She was genuine. I felt my claws retract with each revelation.
Last year, she accompanied Care International on a trip to India where she met countless women and young girls in many different settings, all of whom are learning. That seems like a simple thing to most of us because we live in a nation where it is illegal to withhold education from its children. But in India, as in many places around the world, many children, especially poor children and poor girls, are denied access to education. Care International is working hard to emancipate women and girls from the chains of illiteracy and poverty. They are not only learning to read and do mathematincs, but they are also learning about AIDS, rape, birth control, and even basic things like menstruation and personal hygiene. And there in midst of the teeming groups of women and their daughters, in the deserts, in the slums, on the streets, and in the alleyways, was Meg, watching, smiling, laughing, listening, learning about women whose lives she could never have imagined.
I was so ready to be catty and critical of the results her plastic surgery. I think that physically she was more beautiful before she had the surgery. Within a few moments of tuning in, however, I realized that her facelift was nothing more than external evidence of her hope for an internal transformation. Like everyone else, she is searching for relationships, experiences, situations that will lift her out of the darkness and into the light.
Admitting on national television that she is lonely, confused, and sad about so much in her life made Meg Ryan more emotionally and spiritually beautiful than she was before the surgery. Realizing that there is more to life than making movies and money, Meg opened her heart to a needy baby girl from China and a million needy girls in India. Reaching out to meet the needs of the world's poorest and least appreciated citizens has mitigated some of the loneliness and isolation that often accompany her wealth and stardom here at home. She's tried the fame route. She's been married. She's given birth to one child and adopted another. She's traveled all around the world, has found a truly noble cause, and is giving of her time, energy, and wealth to improve the lives of women and children whose prospects for a brighter future were practically nil until just a year or so ago. In the greater scheme of these things, the facelift doesn't matter at all.
As I sat there and watched, new questions bubbled up in my heart and mind. "Gail, how can you be so stupidly insensitive? How can you be so utterly relentless in your criticism and needlessly cruel in your superiority complex?" Meg Ryan is a woman created in the image of the God of love, of compassion, of beauty, of art, of grace, and of mercy. Why would you want to see her in any other way? She seeks to give and receive love, mercy, compassion, and hope in her life. Even if she did leave her marriage for an affair with Russell Crowe, even if that were true, the reason she did it is because she yearns for love, for touch, for wholeness just like I do. She longs to be loved, just like I do. She longs to know peace, just like I do. She would like the pain, the oddness of life, the confusion, and the loneliness to end just like I would.
Money doesn't ease the pain.
Looking good doesn't make life good.
Sorrow is no respecter or persons.
Nor is isolation.
Friends sometimes betray and disappoint us.
Marriages and other relationships fail.
Judging others is simply a cover-up for my own pain.
I too want a new face, one that shows the internal transformation going on in me. I want my face to reflect both my cattiness and my realization that cattiness is a habit I want to abandon. I want my face to reflect how I am learning to love the life I have and not the life I wish I had. I want to show that this journey of life is stretching me, pushing me to take more chances in love and in friendship and in my walk of faith. The challenges of life are also pushing me to face my resistance to growth, to change, and to acceptance of my faults as well as the faults of others. I am learning to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. I am seeking to be more honest in my relationships. I am learning to ask for help when I need it, to say "No" to requests that I cannot fill, and "Yes" to those that fill me. I am learning that setting and living within reasonable boundaries is both a challenge and a relief.
I suspect that it's a lot easier to undergo surgery: to fill in the wrinkles from too much exposure to the stinging, burning rays of anger and bitterness, to puff out the sallow places where I refuse to let the light of God's love shine in and expose my hidden shame and fear, and hope that no one will mention how fake, how hypocritical I look. I can inject the botox of emotional stiffness into my heart and not be affected when Meg Ryan or Lucy Liu talk about the devastating effects of poverty and earthquakes in the remote parts of the world, and Oprah talks about the continuing legacy of separate and unequal existences here at home that was highlighted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I can perform liposuction on my heart and suck out all the parts that feel deep affection for the gay/straight, single/married, addicted/unstable, hard-working/unemployed, homeschooling/traditionally schooled, black/white, urban/suburban, rich/poor, non-Christian/conservative Christian, illegal immigrant/proud American, nearby/far-away people I know and love, and cling to the notion that "they" don't deserve my love until they start to... or until they stop... I can inflate my cheeks into a phony smile every time I hear someone tell me I am wasting my time on the people on either side of the many slashes that threaten to cleft my heart and life wide open. I can be catty for the rest of my life, standing away from the unwashed masses, and hide in my whitewashed house, clean, disinfected, and always right.
But that's not the life I choose to live anymore. Lord, deliver me from the cattiness, from a routine that finds criticism more palatable than compassion, that applauds my haughtiness but diminishes my humility. Show me when and where I can reach out and touch the hand, the heart, and the face of the wrinkled, the overweight, the scorned, the over-indulged, the scared, the over-confident, the ones who are right, the ones who've been wronged, in other words, everyone I see.
I was all prepared to be catty yesterday when I sat down to watch Oprah. Fortunately,
Meg's meekness clipped my claws. When will I submit myself to being declawed once and for all?