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.