Today is my brother’s birthday. I remember when he was released from his social workers at the hospital, a mess of wires and heart monitors. I remember his pitiful wails, the birthmark that all but swamped his tiny cheek, our disbelief that the woman who gave birth to him could have left him, any more than a person could abandon a mewling kitten. As always, I remember the first IEP he had, and my mother’s blotchy, tear-swollen face when she hoarsely recounted what she’d been told; that he’d never read above a 3rd grade level. Since he’s now in junior college, still reading slowly, still not letting it define him, this is an especially poignant memory. My mother made the choice for us to stand up and move forward with his life, as if he were perfect. As if he weren’t an irregular little human being, left on the cutting room floor when they loaded up the lives of perfect people for public viewing.
This time of year, there are tons of sales and people blah-blah-blahing about steals and deals. I just got an ad insisting that they’d find me the most “flattering” holiday dress, and I had to laugh and roll my eyes. I frequently have these questions — when they talk about swimsuits and hiding “trouble” spots, but what does “flattering” really mean? To supplement what’s already there? To augment or enhance what isn’t there? Is a flattering dress one that doesn’t show all of my flaws… a dress that doesn’t show me as I really am?
Should I want that?
The idea of imperfect, irregular, stippled and nonuniform shouldn’t be so repugnant to us — there are few — actually none — of us who are that ideal of physical beauty, but we’ve been airbrushed and perfected until that’s all we seem to see. I’m reminded of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “Pied Beauty,” and its overwhelming love for all things are blotchy, skewed, and varicolored, so many more asymmetrical, uneven, crooked, misshapen, and lopsided. I’m grateful today for the irregular, which gave me my brother — and myself.
And all of you.
~ Gerard Manley Hopkins
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced –
fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: