Right Life

Bodies That Matter

by Becky on August 3, 2017

in Right Life, Travel

Agkali-27As Ms. D and I sat on the rocks where the famous thermal waters gush from the earth in Aidipsos, a town on the northwest coast of Evia, we noted how utterly unconcerned the people around us seemed to be about their bodies. “Blithe abandon” is what I’d call it. “Blithe” because: you’re on a Greek island where steaming hot mineral water pours into the ocean as if from a spigot. And “abandon” because, well, who CARES whether you look like an American Ninja Warrior? (The answer is, exactly nobody cares; they’re all too busy relaxing or swimming or chatting up their friends who are also relaxing/swimming.) Come on, you’re not going to feel positively loopy about the prospect of lounging right in the sweet spot where the heat from that beautiful water meets the cool of the sea? Who cares what you look like in your bathing suit, right??

So, Ms. D and I, we soaked in the hot coolness. Or maybe it was the cool heat. And we had this long conversation about Americans’ preoccupation with what they view as their bodies’ deficiencies. I remarked that I’d personally heard Brené Brown give the women at the Mom 2.0 Conference a set-down for never putting their bathing suits on. “What kind of message are you sending your daughters!?” she wanted to know. And she’s right.

Ms. D and I also talked about how received notions about beauty virtually cripple us from the time we’re young. Years ago, for example, when I subscribed to Seventeen magazine, I’d spend whole summer days pouring over those pages and those pictures, comparing myself to the young women I saw there. Consciously or not, I always found myself deficient by comparison. Geez, what a waste of time! And what a perfect recipe for a lame self-story that featured me as not-so-perfect instead of Me as Bloom-in-progress. Indeed, our preoccupation with unrealistic (and these days, airbrushed) standards of beauty keeps us focused on what we view as our lack–at the expense of learning to flex our wisdom muscles or especially our kindness muscles more consistently.

But the Greeks and the other Europeans who’d come to “take the waters” that afternoon with Ms. D and me? Didn’t matter the size, the shape, the age: everyone was suited up for the bathe, and absolutely NO one seemed to care whether their proportions were acceptable to anyone else.Agkali-25b

Man, it was inspiring.

There was a little trio of women perched on the rocks near us. I’m guessing they were somewhere in their sixties. One of them had on a bikini. Moreover, she’d taken the time to apply bright, fire-engine-red lipstick before getting wet. Why she felt she needed red lips while stretched out in that steamy water, I don’t know, but I’m still smiling as I think about her. One of her companions had on what appeared to be all her best gold jewelry. Rings, bracelets, earrings–the whole, gold shebang. I love that she wanted to sparkle while she soaked. Oh, those gals laughed and laughed and laughed together. I found myself itching to know what was so funny. But more than that, I wholeheartedly admired their blithe abandon.

Look, bodies matter because they offer mobility, flexibility, strength, and moment-by-moment collisions with our senses.  But let’s not mistake our flesh for ourselves.  And let’s not misread opportunities to get in the water as opportunities to be shamed for all our perceived body flaws.  If the Greeks’ blithe abandon taught me anything that afternoon at Aidipsos, it’s that the business of really feeling the water with your friends works better when you let go of the need to feel a certain way in your suit.

But hey, I’m good at preaching. Let’s see if I can walk my talk next time I hit the beach with the Eleven O’Clock Kids!

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House with shutters_9503

“Oh, that I lived here,” I say to myself.  “In this valley just south of Sault, France. In this stone house brightened by turquoise shutters.”

But I don’t. And that’s actually okay, I suppose. The place, its happy shutters, its old trees, its nearby fields of lavender: real alright, but not my real.  Moreover, the house probably has plumbing issues, electrical issues, varmint issues, and drafty room issues.  Sure, it’s charming, but charming is a matter of perspective, isn’t it?  At least, that’s what I’ve been persistently telling myself over the last month as I’ve been moving into a new place.

Having relegated the beauties of Provence to memory, I’m planting myself in my New Real, a place at the foot of the Wasatch mountains, in Utah, a spot I never bothered to imagine myself in because I was born and raised in California. But times change, jobs call, new landscapes beckon.

I’m earnestly trying now to see my little corner of the world the way I saw this valley in the Luberon, in France, back in June.  The formula for this kind of seeing:  1) really look, 2) find the Lovely, and 3) remember that the Grass On The Other Side may only be greener (or the lavender brighter) because the lenses of your dark glasses ratchet up the color of everything five shades.

Looking down at fields_9456

Rolled hay_9476

Lavender field_9522

Want to practice along with me?  Okay.  First, we’ll examine the grass on the other side.  Yes, the South of France is decidedly green.  And yes, the village of Sault, nestled right in the soul of lavender country, could charm anyone:  the stone churches and facades, the riot of colorful shutters, the flowers bursting out of an old wheelbarrow.

Statue in front of church_9579

Inside the church_9599

Ivy-covered facade_9561

Oldtime French balcony gridwork_9567

Town facade_9606

Wheelbarrow with flowers_9624

Silas on stile_9608

But being back among my own things?–that business has its charms, too. For example, I felt myself smile as I unpacked my favorite books, which now happily crowd the bookshelves in my new family room. And unearthing my mother’s china, which lived in storage for years, did me a world of good, reminding me of all the occasions when, as a child, I had the job of setting the table for Thanksgiving or Christmas. I never imagined that simply unwrapping my mother’s things would trigger so many lovely memories of the woman whose absence I still feel so keenly after fifteen years. “We’re going to use all this!” I assured my girls as I filled up the china cabinet that also was hers (and her mother’s, and her mother’s mother’s).  Remember in The Quiet Man, when Maureen O’Hara’s character refuses to consider herself properly married because she doesn’t have her mother’s things around her?  Yeah, I get that now.

The Look, Find, Remember-to-remove-your-sunglasses recipe for Being Content is neither new nor novel, I know that.  I’m not the first to realize the value not only in blooming where you’re planted but also in noticing what else has bloomed nearby, so to speak.  In the spirit of flexing my Finding-the-lovely muscles, I thus have to confess that the late summer skies in Utah rival anything the Continent cooked up for us over the last year. And the mountains here feel mystical in their rugged beauty–sunglasses or no.

The other cool thing?–you know those kids I took with me to Europe?  Well, I brought ’em back with me, too.

Railroad

Miss Lavender’s smile eclipses many other things just as well down on the railroad tracks here in Utah Valley as it ever did abroad.

Vintage dress from M.O.T.E.L. in Barcelona

And Miss Zinnia’s diaphanous-ness transposes from one continent to the other just fine.

Vintage dress from M.O.T.E.L. in Barcelona

If I can just get this down, you know??–the formula, I mean. Look, plus find. Plus remember the way those (blasted) dark glasses (read “unmanaged expectations”) so often distort things.

Here’s the drill.  I’m writing down ten things I’ve already named “lovely” today, things that have blossomed for me.  (And the shades are in the kitchen drawer.)  Moreover, lest you find this exercise too cloying, consider this:  deliberately searching out what makes you feel light and bright helps keep the darkness at bay.

Ready, set.

One, the song I’m listening to by Juanes, “Es Por Ti.”

Two, the Kershisnik print of the Nativity, sitting on my fireplace mantle.  (I like to imagine myself as one of the women ministering to Mary . . .)

Three, Goose’s hair this morning, the front of it slicked with pomade.  (Look out, fourth grade girls at Barratt Elementary.)

Four.  The Wasatch ridge.  No words grand enough.

Five.  Miss Zinnia early this morning, perky and unflappable, even when I broke the yoke of one of the eggs I was frying for her.

Six.  Fresh-picked Gala apples found at a local roadside stand, now resting in a dish in my kitchen.  (Had one for breakfast.  Oh, my.)

Seven.  My four-slot toaster.  Yes, indeed.

Eight.  Miss Lavender’s Rapunzel hair.

Nine.  My piano.  And the old, wind-up metronome that tick-tocked its way through my childhood practice sessions with me.

Ten.  This list.  I’m serious.  It’s helped me bloom today.

Happy September, friends.  Here’s to living in the season, whatever it is!

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