Friday, June 10, 2011

on beauty

My present for Mother's Day was an afternoon out of the house, with Chip watching over Bean. They played with blocks and beads while I got a pedicure.

Pedicures can be such intimate things, I think: having someone, a stranger, wash your feet--- their face at knee level as you tower over them in a big black chair. I closed my eyes as a tiny Asian woman scrubbed each toe, her fingers moving quick in the soapy water. As she reached up my lower leg, she caught sight of a mole on my calf.

It's not something I like very much: a red mole, so strange in it's brightness. I wish for a type of camouflage for it, or the power to wish it away.

I hate trying to shave my legs around it. I've nicked the thing once or twice and if it didn't bleed more than I thought possible--- handfuls of kleenex and a small river of blood in the shower.

A few months ago my doctor removed a few moles, and as she worked I hopefully directed her toward the strange little red one. She pursed her lips when she saw it and said the scientific name which I immediately forgot. These types of moles, she told me, are fierce and annoying and nearly impossible to remove without a lot of trouble: they sit poised directly on top of a blood vessel. Unless there is reason to remove them, like a cancer scare, it's best to leave them be.

So she did.

I continue to be annoyed by it. Embarrassed, even.

- - -

The other day Alice and I were spending time on the driveway, our usual positions when it's afternoon and not raining. She had been riding her tricycle and I was sitting near the grass, leaning on my hands.

In a moment of quiet, I noticed that Alice had abandoned the tricycle and was on hands and knees staring intently at our front walk. She pushed her face close to the concrete, and closer. Then in a split second she was up and running full tilt toward me, calling my name. As she reached my arms she gulped, "Mommy! I'm scared of the ALLIGATOR."

I stood up and took her hand, "Let's go find this alligator, Bean. Show it to me."

So she did: it's small gray armor moving quietly along. A pill bug; sow bug; roley-poley; whatever you call it, it was one of those lumbering across the expanse of our front path.

I told Alice not to be scared, that it was a pill bug. Some people call them roley-poleys, I told her, urging her to look closely at this tiny miracle.

At first she held back, but after a few moments she was laughing at it, wanting to pet it and hold it and keep it for her very own. We did the first two but happily kept Mr. Roley-Poley on the lawn instead of bringing him into our house.

Yesterday afternoon Alice came to me again: this time inside the house, telling me that she was scared. I sensed another ferocious beasty and wasn't disappointed when I found a small black spider on the floor. I quickly squished it in a paper towel.

Alice watched the proceedings and I could see her mind trying to work out the difference: how was a pill bug so unassuming and sweet and a friend --- when the black spider was not? How was one so much more worthy of adoration?

- - -

As the tiny Asian woman washed my feet, I could see her examining the ugly red mole. I wanted to pull my leg from her hand, wanted to ask her to ignore it.

Instead she motioned excitedly to another worker in the shop, a running burst of quick Cantonese then a smile.

She looked up at me then, motioning to the mole, "You know, in my country, this is very good luck. Beautiful. Very very beautiful."

I nodded, unconvinced. But she continued, "No, really. It's such a beautiful thing, a sign of goodness."

I think about beauty, this strange arbitrary concept of what is acceptable and what is not. One culture taught to revere what another culture thinks is just plain weird. And a small gray pill bug still living in vast forest of our grass while a black spider's body sits squished in the kitchen trash.


Rainyday said...

Your description of the red mole reminds me of Felix's hemangioma birth mark. When they appear in children, they typically and gradually fade over time. But they can appear in adulthood, or late childhood and are know as a vascular malformation and it basically just hangs out forever. Since they're usually a big honeycomb of blood vessels, a nick can seem like a gusher!
In North America, these types of birthmarks are usually said to be ugly and unwanted and there are various surgeries and medications. In many cases it's only cosmetic. (They can grow large, consuming limbs or interfering with eyesight... then it's a medical intervention!) But many other cultures find them auspicious and beautiful!
Felix's is on his forehead, dead centre, like a third eye. We like it. Can't imagine him without it, though it is fading every day.
Wowza. That's my ramble for today!

angelalois said...

I like to comment with a story of my own: someone left a note on my car yesterday thanking me for a terrible parking job. I was completely astounded and a little offended as I thought my parking job was wonderful. My only thought is that after I pulled up behind a Suburban, maybe a mini parked there and then someone assumed I was wrong. It's sorta like that. Who are we to assume what is wrong? Whatever we see with our own eyes isn't necessarily truth. It's a crazy concept. One you are understanding here as well.