I am in a dark room. Doors are closed. Music is pumping but the room is silent outside of my earbuds. Alone, I am dancing to a song that makes me feel very sad, a little angry. I am turning my wrists and swiveling my hips. Kicking my legs and snapping my hair. I am being as dramatic as I possibly can be in this space. Dramatic here means I am less so on the outside.
There is no stage for this dance, nor is there an audience except my own witness. I am dancing to move through the feelings of today. Of five years ago. Of me at age four. I am all one in these movements. There is no separation between the me who is in charge of everything and the me who couldn’t put on her own socks. There is tenderness, validation, and release from places so deep I can only assume they go deeper.
The song ends, and I feel more forgiving. Yet as I catch my breath I wonder if, after 42 years of slogging through this muddy hole, perhaps there is no way out. Perhaps I am digging it even deeper.
It seems I am hopeless. I am a piece of hardened granite under a mountain so heavy that nothing can move it. I confess all of this — indeed, because I am a human.
This blood, this body, this mind — they take me down a million paths that lead me to the same wilderness I thought I had once tamed. Each time I get here, I see the vines have grown back. The dead branches clutter the ground once again. How cute of me to think that healing, just like gardening, is ever finished.
This gets frustrating at times. Hearing my current partner say the thing about my behavior that I’ve heard in every significant relationship. Seeing the same perfectionism that has dogged me all my life play out in the way I brush my daughter’s hair. It is enough to make me question why I bother. Life seems a lot easier if I were to just park myself somewhere and do the minimum.
But when I am on my knees crawling through the dark woods, facing, once again, this ragged garden, I find myself crawling toward the tiniest speck of light, and I remember this: I bother with all this because I must.
As a child I was mesmerized by my own reflection in a mirror. I felt in awe of my body as it went through its transformation from child to young girl. I would spend hours just looking at myself with pure curiosity.
But somewhere, somehow, I learned to hate what I saw. To hate not just my physical form but my very expression of life — these hopeless patterns that were reflected back to me when I saw my face or body. During those years, looking into a mirror was enthralling, but my gaze had turned into one I might use when watching a fire that I lit tear through a house. It is hard to look away from the flames of self-annihilation.
I have decided to step away from my hobby of arson. I have decided that there is something alluring about this human form I find myself in. So I have returned the mirror to its original purpose — a reflective device for me to witness the incredible depths of my divinity.
Without mirrors, whether they appear as glass or friends or the eyes of my daughter, I am blind. So I now seek them out.
Sometimes I relish in the outline of my shoulder in a storefront window. Other times I am in the car, and catch the grace of my forehead in the rearview mirror at a red light. But often, I am at home, repose on the floor without clothing. Here my eyes can linger. They trace the curve of my waist or the length of my fingers. They note the freckles and the lines. Sometimes I go deeper, spreading my legs and staring at the origin of the universe. This is better than wandering the world’s best museums.
This practice has nothing to do with vanity. It is not meant to feed the ego, but to cover this most tender part with a salve of unconditional self-love.
If I can love my stretch marks, I can forgive the way I overstep my boundaries.
If I can adore my cellulite, I can whisper soft words of forgiveness to my failings.
If I can witness my divinity as it sits in my skin, I can accept my hopeless humanity. Day after day after day.
And that is everything.
The Ugly Parts
The ugly parts are the misunderstood parts. They are the overlooked sisters. The unmarried aunts. They are the hags who had many very good reasons to eat whomever has the audacity to knock at the door of their forest dwelling.
I know that the ease at which I step into rage, blame, self-righteousness are my dearest allies. They are the softest, most innocent parts of me that have never gotten their due. They don’t need retribution or validation from the long list of People Who Have Caused Me Harm. They need to be treated — by me — like Cinderella, the most beautiful woman at the ball, who was all but a shadow until a few hours ago.
Dressed in my finest robes, I walk straight to her. Her look of surprise tells me I am the first one brave enough to wipe the ash from her cheeks. I offer her my hand. We waltz, tango, and shimmy, our bodies twisting together as we move in union. We witness one another this way. We see the pain, the recognition of the ways that sadness and loneliness have unjustly held the throne.
Her skirts kiss the floor. The song turns to one that makes me feel very sad, a little angry. I grow tense, stop moving. She whispers to me that I will serve her better by loosening, letting my hips swivel and limbs soften.
I catch myself in the gilded mirror, finding a moment of awe in the grace of my movements. I may not ever be able to turn off the song, but I can learn to become a better dancer.
The clock strikes midnight, but no one loses her beauty. Instead, it signals the coming of a new heir to the throne. This benevolent queen treats all her subjects with kindness and great care. Especially the ugly ones. Especially them.