Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Presence of Beauty

Sensual sexual beauty is startling, distracting, uncomfortable.

I think I first noticed this as a young man on a trip with my family to Sylvan Lake during a summer vacation. We had our spot on the beach, a rustle of wind, caused by the simultaneous turn of heads, caught my attention. A woman, of maybe twenty, walked on to the beach with her younger sister. I had never seen a human being so incredibly beautiful. She must have felt every eye on her but she moved unconsciously, unaware. She spread out a large towel, being helped by her sister. Then she pulled off her tee shirt and stripped off her cut offs, leaving her in a bathing suit that would have been considered racy - then. There was a gasp. Everyone was affected by the sight of her, the physicality of her beauty. It was like we were all frozen for a few seconds on a hot beach. Beauty, sensual, sexual, beauty, has physical impact. I turned my eyes back to the water, knowing something more of what it is to be human and what it is to be in the presence of beauty.

I thought of her today, maybe for the first time since then, as Joe and I were having a veggie dog sitting at tables set out for people to stop and rest. The rustle started to my left. I was, again, facing water, a small public pool. The people next to me, two women and a man, had been chatting animatedly about their day. They fell silent, I glanced to them and then let their eyes guide mine to what had caught them - food halfway to their open mouths. My first reaction was annoyance. I saw coming towards us a young man, maybe 21, heading for the tables. At that distance all I really noticed was that he was riding with his shirt off. I, too, was taken a bit by surprise because I almost never see disabled bodies on display. But that thought was replaced seconds later with a 'why the hell not' it was a beautiful sunny day.

We went back to our chat, we'd seen a movie and were trying to identify the voice actors in it. Then it became clear to both of us that in place with tables, crowded with people, we were the only one's talking. I turned again and saw the young man sitting, alone at a table, a book open in front of him. He was, quite simply, stunningly beautiful. A handsome face, a strong jawline, hair that was shaped by the fingers of the wind.. The outline of his body stood out, lean, against the hard black of his wheelchair seat. His cerebral palsy ran a distant second to what made him different. His skin glowed with health. His strong shoulders looked freshly lathered with sunscreen. The tattoo, a bit too small to be identified, stood as if in guard over the brown pink of his right nipple. Yes it wasn't disability that made him different. It wasn't disability that had thrown a stone into the pond. But it was as if disbility provided a backdrop, a back story, to the moment that beauty sat at a table to read a book.

The faces.

The faces around me...

... didn't know how to see him. It was as if everyone noticed that this was a handsome, beautiful, man. But they also noticed that this was a young man with cerebral palsy. It was like they were looking at one of those pictures that change an image with a twist of the wrist, with a shift of light.  Faces veered back and forth not able to settle on what they were seeing. It was like ...

it was like ...

it was like ...

he simply couldn't be both ... a handsome, beautiful, sensual, sexual young man AND a guy with cerebral palsy.

He sat there calmly reading his book. Letting the sun bake him. Letting people see him. Leaving his shirt, a white tee with blue trim, cast aside, carelessly on the table beside his book.

Sensual sexual beauty is startling, distracting, uncomfortable.

But there is another kind of beauty, even more startling, even more distracting ... a beauty that comes from confidence, from being comfortable in one's own skin, from being careless about the gaze of others. The beauty, the beauty of beauties, pride.

He had it.

As when I was a boy, I again heard the rustle of wind caused by the turning of heads, and like then, I watched as waves of attention lapped at the feet of beauty.

I turned my eyes back, as I did then, to water,again knowing more about what it is to be human and what it is to be in the presence of beauty.


Kristin said...

Beauty comes in so many forms. I wish more people took the time to recognize that.

John R. said...

Social construction has unfortunately created "definitions" of beauty. However, you hit it right in the center of the true definition. The young man you were describing had deep and strong confidence and pride in his body and soul. (I also believe strongly that tattoos are kind of like homing beacons for people to invite others to see bodies regardless of shape/size/disability etc..,I wish you saw what his tattoo represented??) He exuded pride.

Whether you are Brad Pitt (who gets a little help with his wife in terms of nice looking features) or whether you are a person with different body shape and size and perhaps even cerebral palsy, spina bifida or what have you... ultimately what matters is how one gives to the world their pride and glory of being born a beautiful human! We are ALL gorgeous if we just can get beyond all that social construction b-sh*t.

I have struggled forever with my body image and this post has just made me rethink, recalculate and consider sunning myself today in my local park...with my shirt off....and sunscreen SPF 345!!

Belly (Liz McLennan) said...

This is poetry, Dave. Love it.