Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Braid Station

In the night air,
My breath drifted away
In the lights of the stairway
At Braid Station.
I turned to look at the place
Where, in his old truck,
My brother-in-law used to pick me up,
Cigarette considerately held out the window.
Garrulous. Opinionated.
Seriously Italian.
Our good-natured philosophical arguments
Went on for twenty years of late nights
At your kitchen table.
Too often,
On the patio you built,
You smoked and we talked.
You smiled at my sincerity,
Striving to shoehorn your thinking
Into a twenty-first century mold,
To embrace animal rights,
And to quit smoking.
I could never tell you anything, could I?
For you, family
Was more important than anything else.
But first your little cough, and then
Your oxygen bottle
Condemned me to the seer's curse.
Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form.
But you still died, dammit!
I turned back
And continued up the stairs
To wait on the windy platform
At Braid Station.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Homely as a Mud Fence

Travelling in a car rather than taking public transit, you don't have to mingle tightly with people of different colours, cultures and smells. The problem is, you don't get to mingle tightly with people of different colours, cultures and smells.

In my earlier adult years, I had a habit of walking down the sidewalk and holding my breath as I passed people of different colours, cultures and smells, as well as disabled people, the elderly, and people that I just thought were odd, as if their otherness would contaminate me if I breathed their air.

Thankfully, that old demon has pretty much faded away, except when it comes back in other forms to give me a prod.

I remember an older relative's favourite put down being "She's as homely as a mud fence." Although it used to make me cringe, I don't think I ever had the guts to call him on it. More frequently than I like to admit, similar uninvited unkind thoughts bubble up when I meet a face that will never be on the cover of Cosmopolitan.

I wonder how many young women have mastered the art of smiling only with their mouths but not with their eyes in order to delay the onset of one of my very favourite features of the human anatomy: crow's feet wrinkles.

We seem to have an irresistible urge to appear young and attractive, although I suspect our fear of looking old, or being thought of as old, is really a fear of being old, i.e. mortal.

The cosmetics companies, having hired the very brightest consultants and psychologists, know precisely how to manipulate us.

Use our product and you will look like, and then become, this glamour model. People will swarm after and swoon over you. Don't use our product and you will remain ugly, or at best, plain, and people will spurn you, or at best, ignore you. They will swarm after and swoon over the Beautiful People, but you will remain unnoticed, unloved, and alone.

So many of us, at some level, believe this sad fairy tale. We spend the money and buy the products and then spend years of our lives in front of a mirror perfecting our appearance because it's normal and necessary. Unfortunately, since we only believe the myth on one level, on another, we know it's a lie.

Although we sing the tune I'm beautiful, the other tune I'm frumpy, I'm dumpy, I'm pudgy, I'm fat plays in the background and follows us out into our lives. Too often, the tale ends in depression, anorexia, bulimia, family breakups, addiction to alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, and in suicide.

This is probably only the visible tip of an iceberg of unhappiness. While not clinically depressed, how many feel beaten down by the culture of beauty paraded by the seemingly self-confident? How much are you and I responsible? What can we do about it?

Next time we encounter an 'ugly' face, rather than turn away, if we look closer, we may discover a very kind person, only thinly disguised, looking back. Someone different in appearance but in nature so familiar that we ask, "Why do I know this person?" Then we go home and look in the mirror.

Knock on a thousand doors
The same familiar friend
Answers each one
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