The other day I returned a few things to the home of a close friend while she was away at work. When I opened her front door, I found the remnants of breakfast on the dining room table, mail and books on the hall bench, stacks of plates in the kitchen, and jackets, shoes and exercise equipment piled by the front door.
I was laying witness to the messy accoutrements of family life. When my house looks that way, I get on my family’s case to clean up. The clutter grates on my nerves. Likewise, my friend may look at her cluttered house and feel irritation.
But when I saw my friend’s home in disarray, I didn’t see the mess. I didn’t see clutter. I saw a home that was lived in and loved.
And it was beautiful.
Measuring in love
In the musical Rent, there’s a song, Seasons of Love, which asks, ”How do you measure a year? How do you measure a year in a life?”
“In daylights – in sunsets
In midnights – in cups of coffee
In inches – in miles
In laughter – in strife.”
We don’t measure our lives in perfection. It’s not measured in its orderliness, or in our togetherness. We measure our lives in the many tiny details that imbue our days – our clutter and messes and pile of books by the front door.
A home is meant to be used. A perfect house where everything is in perfect order feels like a museum, cold and unwelcoming – not a place where people reside.
And trying to maintain a perfect body where everything is in order? It can make life feel cold and unwerlcoming – not a place where a being resides.
The gift of imperfection
In an era of social media styling, it’s easy to imagine that perfection – or style, or at least a neat house! – is what we should offer guests when they come to our homes for a visit.
And we can feel this same pressure to make our bodies look their best.
But I think it’s the imperfections, the worn carpets and shabby sofa, the wrinkles and hooked noses and saggy thighs, the evidence of how we have lived in, loved and used our homes – and our bodies – that make them endearing.
I once went to a skin care and make up store, where I was getting my makeup done for a fancy event. The first woman who helped me asked a lot of questions about my current skin care routine, and did a lot of tsk tsking when I told her that I didn’t exfoliate, or use toner, or sun screen much, for that matter.
I could feel my whole body tighten, as if I were doing something wrong.
Thankfully, her co-worker overheard and joined the conversation. She smiled a bit, and then said of her age spots and wrinkles, “Well, the way I see it, it’s fun damage, not sun damage. I had a lot of fun outside, and it shows.”
Our most precious heirlooms
Many years ago, after my grandma died, I went through her belongings with my Dad and uncle. ”What would you like to remember her by?” they asked. I walked around her home, quiet with her absence.
I felt such tenderness for the things, the normal everyday things that made my grandma who she was: her reading glasses on her bedside table (when my grandma came to visit us she always checked out stacks and stacks of books from the library), her deck of cards (we always played Up and Down the River, Hearts and Gin), her many picture frames of family photographs on her fireplace mantel.
Those things were what I remembered and treasured about my grandma. And those are the things that I took with me.
So I have a deck of my grandma’s cards and I have her reading light, and I think of her nearly every time I go to the library and check out my own stack of books.
These things are her heirlooms, and mine, for they are the evidence of how she lived and loved, and how she shared that love with me.
The evidence of love
My body also shows the evidence of how I’ve lived and loved. I sometimes let my fingers linger over the bumpy stretch marks that wind their way around my hips and thighs from four pregnancies, my saggy breasts that nursed one baby after another for nearly eight years.
I love my flat feet, the little toes that are longer than my big toe, the long hands that speak my truth. I love my grandma’s pale skin, the dark brown hair from my other grandma, the muscles on my arms and legs from years of weight lifting and running, and the tummy pooch that sags below my belly button.
My husband loves to cradle my saggy belly at night – he says it gives him something to hold onto.
At times I’ve even loved my extra pounds, the padding that comes and goes from years of overeating. It, too, speaks to how I’ve lived. Not always ‘well,’ but lived, nonetheless. Extra padding has its own story, of hardship and strength and growth – and courage.
In her poem When Death Comes, Mary Oliver says it this way:
I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When I read this poem, what strikes me is the preciousness of each body, of each flower, of each life, of every living thing.
So when you take measure of your body, when you judge its worth, when you start to look at your body with the same irritation I can bring to my house when it’s really messy, pause.
Instead, look upon your body as you would look upon a loved ones’ body, as something special and priceless and tender, as something that speaks to the very uniqueness and beauty that is you. As Jonathon Larson, the writer of Rent says, measure your body in love.
I love this. It's so beautiful and true.
Happy Valentine's Day, Karly! 🙂
That quote has been at the top of my blog for over a year… while one piece of me is constantly fighting with the journey to lose weight and get fit, I always want to remember that quote (hence its placement) because I don't want to become so focused on the one thing (lose weight) that I forget that life is about living it….enjoying the ride. I just found your site and know I'm going to be spending a lot of time here perusing all of what you have to offer. Thank you!
Great! Thank you.
What a wonderful post and a great reminder why we should embrace imperfections – thank you x
That was just so beautifully written. Thank you.
ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL ARTICLE!!!
You are a gifted writer!
Thanks for sharing.
Hugs and admiration,
(with a firm nod of agreement with the words you have written)
This is SO nicely written. It was really touching and came at a very poignant time for me. I relate to the body image thing, of course. But the problem that I've had more recently is with the tidiness of the house. My husband's mother lives in a "museum" and that's how he expects our house to look. At the cost of me spending cherished time with my toddlers. I love how you weaved together the two, seemingly different points. This is really a nice piece. I will be passing it on to my friends.
This is the most amazing blog Ive ever read. You have changed my life in the 5 minutes that it took me to read this. Thank you so much for being so amazing!!!
I don't remember when or if I ever read anything so beautiful!
Thank you tremendously!!!!!!!!!!
I have to say that was the sweetest thing I.ve read in a long time (your body, measured in love) what an blessed insight to what really matters in life. I had to stop and thank you for sharing from the heart!
What a timely note…………… I am trying to sew a flowergirl dress for my son's wedding, tend a huge garden, do flower arrangements for the same wedding and oversee a rehersal dinner effort. My hands & fingers are swollen from too many hours in the garden and pulling threads and my eyes are strained. I have berated myself for "getting old" and not being perfectly able to pull off what I used to do w/one hand tied behind my back. I have been feeling almost panicky at the messages my body is sending me right now.
Your message was so what I needed to hear. I am OK. No, I am not as good as I once was or even as good once as I once was………but I am alive and trying to love my family & friends in any way that they need.
Bless you …..you are a wise woman!
Wow everyone – Thank you for the touching, sincere comments. I feel so warmed by the way our hearts connected over this article.
It looks like we're all trying to open our hearts to our bodies. Peace to us all!
I love reading these articles!
This brought tears to my eyes. Just this past week, I felt disgust for my body (again)…the same body that brought me through cancer; grew, birthed and nourished two children; ran two marathons, lifts weights, does yoga and carries me uncomplaining through my days. It is me, not something separate to be judged and found wanting. Thank you for the reminder.
Beautiful Louise! Oh the things your body has done. So beautiful.
Your note reminded me of the first line of a Marie Howe poem,
“Bless my mother’s body.”
I feel that same sense, the blessing of your body in your words….