Women sit or move to and fro, some old, some young,
The young are beautiful – but the old are more beautiful than the young.”
– Walt Whitman
I remember reading these words by Whitman for the first time a couple of years ago. As a thirty-six-year old mother, being neither very young nor very old, I’d never heard that sentiment before – “the old are more beautiful.” Although I wanted to claim it, to keep its hope embedded behind the faint lines in my brow, I didn’t really believe it.
Last May, my family moved from the suburbs to the big city. Our “new” house is old—ninety-one to be exact. It has smooth, creaking wood floors, glass doorknobs that sometimes fall off in my hand, and windows with wavy glass, melting with age. If you roll a marble along the floor in my dining room, it will land in the fireplace; the floor slopes that way. But all these foibles somehow add up to charming. As my sister, who came to visit last weekend exclaimed, “I want to stay here. There’s love in the walls!”
When I lived in a newer home, its flaws were incongruous, begging to be fixed. But there is a gentleness about this great-grandmother of a house. Perfection simply cannot be achieved.
This has convinced me that we women ought to think of ourselves as beautiful old houses! After all, even a twenty-year-old woman is no longer “new” in house years! These bodies of ours are just that: earthly homes we’ll all move out of someday.
The passage of time on earth bestows wisdom, stretch marks from turning love into babies, and/or countless encounters with Christ. For all of this living, we are made less outwardly “perfect” and more holy on the inside. We are like quaint houses, enchanting chapels, with “love in our walls.”
Let us pause for a moment to allow an image of the most beautiful woman we’ve ever known to fill our mind’s eye. For me, the picture is of my grandmother. (I’m learning that Whitman was right!) She was soft; she was confident; she was love. When I was a child, Grammy made me feel as if there were nothing in the world more important than being with me. Her triceps were silky and sagging. Sometimes Grammy would hold her arm out as she sat on the couch, surrounded by my sisters and me. We would adoringly nudge her arm back and forth (as if caressing the sateen edges of a blanket), and she would giggle. The words “firm up” never entered our consciousness. Beauty and love abided.
Perhaps the best way to get rid of the pain of perfection is to see ourselves through the same grace lens through which we view our grandmothers, our mothers, our friends, our sisters . . . .
A family member mentioned over the phone, the day after I’d seen her, the distressing sore on her face. “What sore?” I asked, incredulous. Seeing her, the warm, memory-upon-memory picture of her in my mind had overlaid her “current” face. I’d looked straight at her, and I’d seen only “the love in her walls.”
Whitman must have looked at the women in his poem that way, as bodily houses whittled by love, his poet’s eyes blurring all their idiosyncrasies into beauty.
Dear Jesus, please give us poetic eyes with which to gaze upon ourselves and others. Thank you that your love makes us lovely. Amen.