Friday, December 10, 2004

The Painful Price of Beauty

Last night was a miserable night for me. I went to bed with about 75 plastic rod rollers in my hair. I normally sleep on a very firm pillow, but last night it was all feathers for me. I tossed and turned and tried desperately to get comfortable. The rollers jabbed my ears, my forehead, and my neck. I looked like an alien from the asteroid heading to earth (that’s on the teaser for next week’s The West Wing). It was not a pretty sight. But here’s why I did it in a nutshell: as I stood in my bedroom complaining that my hands were numb from putting in rollers, Daniel looked at me and said, “Yeah but Mom, you are gonna look so pretty tomorrow.” He’s right; today my hair looks great. Full of bouncy curls and all the various shades of red and brown highlights aglow, I’m looking quite fine, if I do say so myself.

Whenever I decide I want this curly look, I have to go through a rather elaborate process. The usual stuff comes first; I shampoo, condition, oil, and then twist my locs. That’s how dreadlocs remain separate one from another: after the shampoo, each is twisted separately and allowed to dry. But when it’s fancy hairdo time, I twist them, put them on rollers, sit under a dryer for an hour or two, sleep with the rollers, and remove them in the morning. The good thing is that the curls last for a week or so. It’s fun to have that full Diana Ross look for a few days, then when I wash the curls out, it’s back to my usual long, flat locs until I get inspired to inflict the pain and discomfort again. I always apologize to Steve for having to lie next to his helmet-headed wife. No cuddling is possible for fear that I will injure him with my instruments of torture and beauty.

Why last night? Well, today I attended a Christmas brunch with a group of women I am getting to know and like quite a lot here in Charlotte. And tomorrow morning we will hit the road and head towards Greenville, North Carolina, to visit several aunts, uncles, cousins, and their children. My uncle Cullen is a minister in nearby Winterville, North Carolina, and I haven’t heard him preach in at least 25 years, so it’s time to go hear him again. Plus it’s Christmas – and I will take or make any excuse to take a trip. All in all, I decided to go “glam” for a few days.

But to get to that “glam” place, I needed to go to a painful place. A hot, sweaty, under the dryer place. An uncomfortable, twisting, pulling, place that involved releasing a few truly insufferable rollers. I had a friend back in Connecticut who always wore huge hair styles and unbelievably heavy make-up. I don’t think she owned heels that were less than three inches high, and her clothes covered her like paint covers walls: airtight. She was a sight to behold. Once when I’d done this curly ‘do, she complimented me on my new style. I was straight forward with my explanation: “It’s the magic of plastic and the heat of a dryer.” She came in close and whispered, “Gail, you’ve gotta suffer for sexy.” I laughed. But every time I pull out my bag of magic plastic rods, I remember Mary’s comment. I remember her sage comment when I am sweating through my Tae-Bo workouts: no pain, no gain. I’m not looking to pull a muscle or lose my hair in order to look my best, but without a doubt, hard work is involved. Discomfort is involved. Being able to smile at my reflection in the mirror and wear a size 8 after a decade in 12’s and 14’s - those results have made the pain worthwhile.

I have found that the same truth applies in areas of personal, relational, spiritual, and intellectual beauty and strength as well. If I am going to be a woman of peace, of love, of patience, of godliness, of kindness, of gentleness, then there is work to be done. There must be regular shampooing of unkind, rude, selfish, insensitive, and inconsiderate thoughts from my mind. If I am going to be the best wife I can be, I need to regularly run the “virus check” to quarantine and delete the accumulated critical, angry, disappointed thoughts that sometimes threaten to paralyze and crash our marriage. If I am going to be the best mother I can be, I have to spray Lysol in the parts of my mind where the germs of impatience, unrealistic expectations, and pure jealousy of how great their lives are in comparison with the life that I had as a child have grown. I sometimes have to do a few “extra sets” of lifts, take a few extra moments to push myself to new heights, new depths, and go beyond my perceived limitations if I am gonna drop this excess baggage. When I have to prepare for uncomfortable encounters, difficult conversations, and long car rides with the family, I set aside a few extra moments of solitude to make up for what will be lost in awkward moments and tight hotel rooms.

All this often entails painful work. Even without the rollers, I sometimes toss and turn at night when I am at an impasse in a friendship, facing a crisis of faith, or pondering a marital question that seems unanswerable. On many mornings, I get up before the sun in an attempt to find relief from the forehead, heart, and soul jabs that awaken me. When my fingers go numb after writing countless journal pages, when my heart is pounding and my chest is heaving, when my eyes are red after hours of crying, I tell myself what Daniel told me last night, “Yeah, Gail, but you will be so beautiful, strong, wise, peaceful, and loving tomorrow.” It’s the inner beauty, the peace that passes understanding, the unspeakable joy, the hope for that which is yet unseen, the faith that what He has begun in me will be brought to completion – that’s what I want to be reflected on my face. That’s the only kind of “glam” I want to be known for.


Anonymous said...

Your son calls you Gail?


GailNHB said...

No, he calls me "Mom." Early in the blog post, I quoted what he said to me when I had the rollers in my hair, but as I ended the post I was referring to what I said to myself - and as I spoke to myself, I used "Gail." Both of my children refer to me as "Mom" or "Mommy." Sorry if that wasn't clear. I'd feel quite strange if they referred to me by my first name. Quite odd indeed.