“April. You’ve gained a lot of weight.”
Several months ago, the stars aligned and I found myself stepping back into a house I hadn’t been to in years – the home of some dear, old friends, people who have known me for decades. I hadn’t seen them since the divorce.
I have been divorced for roughly five years now, and these years have been both the hardest and most generative years of my life. There have been significant stretches of time during these years when I have not been sure if I would come out the other side, or in what form. At times I haven’t been sure about my own goodness, or value; at times I haven’t been right more than I’ve been wrong; at times I haven’t always been able to recognize when I’ve been right; most of the time right and wrong have gone out the window. My ethics and values have all been put on the table to be re-evaluated; I’ve been starkly alone and I’ve also learned to really depend on other people; I’ve learned to find the strength that only comes out when you live in the truth; I’ve learned how powerless I am in the face of grief and loss and trauma.
And now I’m almost 40 and I am absolutely the best version of “me” that I’ve ever been. I have survived that shit, you know?
I couldn’t wait to be with these friends again, to show them how much more love I have in my heart now, how much braver I am, how much more gratitude I have life. And I couldn’t wait to see them, to see how they have grown and changed, to see what sparks their passion these days, to be in the presence of their hard-won wisdom.
But that was not what they saw. They saw the 50 pounds I’ve put on over these years, the gray hair that’s appeared around my temples, the beginnings of wrinkles around my eyes.
Today is the Christian feast of the Epiphany, a day that traditionally celebrates the Magi seeing and recognizing the newborn baby as the Christ. Here’s the excerpt from the Psalm (46) that jumped out to me today:
Come now and look upon the works of the LORD,
what awesome things he has done on earth.
It is he who makes war to cease in all the world;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear,
and burns the shields with fire.
I think of Epiphany as this hidden season of light that comes between Christmas and Lent. It’s stuffed into the dark, cold and dismal days of January, arguably with NYC is at its worst (especially if it is snowy and icy), and we’re all a strange mix of resignation and determination thanks to the celebration of the New Year. Yet the church year insists on light, on knowing and recognizing the miraculous among us.
My friend was right when she said I had gained weight. I have. A lot. I’ve often wished it wasn’t the case and I’ve struggled with it immensely over the past few years in particular. What she saw was true. But she missed so many other things. She couldn’t see past the extra pounds. And she couldn’t see that I’ve come to accept that being thin again just might not be in the cards for me for a variety of very good reasons. And I’ve come to actually celebrate the fact that I eat pretty healthy and I am awesome at getting regular exercise and I actually enjoy that exercise and don’t treat it like a punishment that I have to endure for the crime of nourishing my body.
In short, I see fucking clearly now about all this body image nonsense, and one of my intentions for the new year is to continue to de-colonize my vision around what’s beautiful and what’s not. So this year? My intention is to get beyond this “acceptance” nonsense around my body and to learn how to just really, insanely LOVE this body I have, because it is a SURVIVOR and it is strong and it is soft and my son loves to hug me and my partner and I cuddle up so nicely together and my dog loves the comfort of my thigh to rest his little head on and I go up and down 4 flights of stairs multiple times a day to get in and out of my apartment without blinking an eye, my friends.
Also I can see well and hear well and I have an amazing immune system and have been gifted with a serious-illness-free life so far. I love riding my bike on the North County trail and walking the hills in Inwood Hill Park. And dancing! And stretching! And playing harp and banjo!
My friend missed all of this when all she saw was my weight. She saw bigger thighs and a belly and then – as we’ve all been trained – simply saw failure, weakness, loss. She saw a hard journey but missed all the gifts this journey has given me. And it’s really hard to explain that to someone who initially just sees the pudge – it’s hard to explain it without it sounding like excuses or denial. Because I’ve been that person, and I know that you really can’t hear anything else when you’re seeing life that way.
But I’m not that person anymore, and I am so not going to waste another minute of the precious time I have left mourning the fact that my body no longer conforms to some distorted, capitalistic and patriarchal vision for what beauty and value are. I know, deep in my heart, that every way that I’ve grown is worth so much more than that.
So, Epiphany. I’m still learning how to really see the miracle of my body and my journey in it, and the miracle of others bodies and abilities and their journeys, and I’m going to rely on the grace of the Spirit for the humility and openness to see the miraculous work of life and growth and the image of the Christ in all the places that our various cultures insist that we debase instead of celebrate.
Starting with the mirror.
Thanks be to God!