This has been one of those weeks – on so many levels. And sometimes the thing you need the most finds a way to present itself exactly at the right moment. This was the case with an article I found Friday morning. It actually was a blog entitled “Beautiful” and was written by the brother of someone I am proud to call a friend.
A year ago this month, my friend Sharlie Ross Kaltenback was given a second chance at life. Born with cystic fibrosis, she was in dire need of not only a new set of lungs, but a new heart, as well. Last week, she celebrated what she aptly called her Re-Birthday – the day that she received her new organs. Not a single day goes by that she doesn’t think about and humbly give thanks to her donor for allowing her to be a mother to her six-year-old son, a wife to her devoted husband and an inspiration to all those that are lucky enough to know her.
Sharlie knows that she is blessed. To prove my point, this past week, Stephanie Rosales Casas, another local CF patient passed away at the tender age of 17. She died just two days after being officially put on the lung transplant list. I actually only met Stephanie a few times, yet her death felt like a punch to the stomach. Seventeen is too young to die. My children are only 11, 13 and 14. Like Stephanie and Sharlie, my oldest son also has cystic fibrosis. I can even begin to imagine the wake of sadness she has left behind. Her Facebook page is filled with notes of pain, frustration and tears. Over and over, Stephanie was described as beautiful. Not just her sweet smile. But, more specifically, the inner strength that she possessed.
And then I stumbled upon Dax's article. In it, he describes what is beautiful to him. He talks about the beauty of daughters' athletic abilities, of a grandmother's exhausted smile during a 50 mile endurance race, and even the dirt under one's fingernails after climbing a rock or a mountain. Embedded within his words was a gentle reminder that life, while sometimes painful, is still inherently and breathtakingly beautiful. And not just in the traditional sense of a sunset or all the visual pomp and glamour that we will witness at tonight’s Oscar ceremony. To him, beauty exists in basic elements of our humanity. Kindness, courage, joy, compassion, inner strength, perseverance and love. These are the things that make our world go round. And to follow his advice, here is my own personal list of things that make my world beautiful:
Beauty is my parents who still walk down the street holding hands after almost 50 years of marriage. It is also my widowed friend who recently told me that she is finally ready to take a risk and find love again. Beauty is my cousin who just posted a photo of herself cradling her newborn son with the caption “Ohhh, NOW I get it!” It is also my brother and sister-in-law who drove their oldest son off to college a few months ago, as well as my husband’s cousin who is worried about becoming an “empty nester” himself next fall. Beauty is about family. It is knowing that you are a part of something special regardless of your age or geographic location.
Beauty is the cast on my mother-in-law’s left arm, a painful souvenir of hitting a golf ball just a little bit too hard. It is also my father-in-law’s alarm going off before dawn so he can ride his bike down the coast of San Diego with friends half his age. Beauty is my son practicing basketball on our driveway before dinner. It is also the handful of pills he must swallow before sitting down to actually eat his meal. Beauty is my daughters twirling a strand of hair around their fingers as they study for a test. It is also them pulling all of their hair back into a ponytail before they go for a run, walk the dogs or go to dance class. Beauty is about momentum. It is about always finding a way to keep moving forward in the right direction.
Beauty is when my husband smiles at me when I walk through the door. It is also my children saying "thank you" after doing them a favor. Beauty is laughing with a friend so hard you start to cry. It is also the quiet “listening ear” when all you want to do is vent. Beauty is my friend flying to Holland to care for her mother battling cancer. It is also her husband who played single dad for two weeks and never complained. Beauty is making hard parenting decisions. It is also the fine balance of knowing when and where to fight your battles. Beauty is about relationships. It is about carving out a community that makes you feel safe, loved and appreciated.
Beauty is three of my friends sleeping next to their children while they are admitted to Radys Children’s Hospital. It is also the doctors and nurses who walk in and out of those rooms, doing everything in their power to allow those families to return home as soon as possible. Beauty is the room full of balloons that Sharlie blew up for her son’s birthday party. It is also the promise of celebrating many more milestones together. Beauty is about perspective. It is remembering that there are no guarantees in life and cherishing that life regardless.
Beauty is not always sparkly and shiny. It is not necessarily the things that you want or desire. Most of the time, beauty is simply looking around at the things you are lucky enough to have been given and making the most of them. To quote Dax, “Everyone has a different idea of beauty.” To me, love is beautiful. Hugs, kind words and healthy lungs are beautiful. Families are beautiful. Supporing each other is beautiful. And definitely making a positive impact in this world is beautiful.
And while a part of me might look back at this past week with memories of pain, frustration and exhaustion, I can only hope that I focus on all the things that made me smile instead. Life is short. Too short for some. But that should only make what we have all the more appealing. True beauty exists all around us. It is simply up to us to find our own personal definition. Take the challenge. Follow Dax's advice. "What do you consider beautiful?"