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; jackets, coats, 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 familys case to clean up. The clutter grates on my nerves. Likewise, my friend may look at her cluttered house and feel the same irritation.
But when I saw my friends home in disarray, I didnt see the mess. I didnt see clutter. I saw a home that was lived in and loved.
And it was beautiful.
In the musical Rent, theres a song, Seasons of Love, which asks, How do you measure a year? How do you measure a year in a life? The answer? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
We dont measure our lives in perfection. Its 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? It feels like a museum. Cold. Unwelcoming. Not a place where people reside.
A perfect body where everything is in perfect order? It also feels like a museum. Cold. Unwelcoming. Not a place where a woman resides.
We think that perfection is what others want when they come to our homes for a visit. We think that others want us at our physical best. No. Its 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 bodies that makes them endearing.
Funny how we think of that evidence as flaws, as something to be erased or minimized. Funny how we spend so much of our time, energy and money trying to preserve our bodies rather then use them.
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 kept to remember her by.
I have a deck of my grandma’s cards. I have her reading light. Those things mean more to me than valuable heirlooms, like jewelry, money, or antiques. They are the evidence of how she lived; how she loved. How she loved me.
My body shows the evidence of how Ive lived and loved. I hold no shame or hatred for the stretch marks 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 grandmas 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 belies those hours in the gym. I even love my extra pounds, the padding that comes and goes from years of overeating. I suppose that it, too, speaks to how Ive lived. Not always well, but lived, nonetheless.
A good friend signs her email with this quote: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, covered in scars, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming, ‘Yahoo! what a ride’.”
Love your body. Enjoy the ride. Use it up. Be proud of your scars. Be proud that you’ve lived.
And when you take measure of your body, when you judge its worth, look upon your body as you would look upon a loved ones, as something special and priceless; as something that speaks to the very uniqueness and beauty that is you. As Jonathon Larson, the brilliant writer of Rent, says, Measure in love.