Back in March, I became an aunt for the first time. It’s a role that I’ve anticipated eagerly, luckily gaining hands-on experience for years through the sons and daughters of good friends. Even with that practice, though, becoming an aunt to a little boy that looks quite a bit like my beautiful sister is more wonderful than I imagined.
A few weeks ago, when I was holding the littlest family member in my lap as he slumbered, I found myself marveling at his perfection. It wasn’t the first time; his tiny hands, his sweet sounds, his arms that fling overhead without warning before drifting slowly downward, and his mouth that puckers instinctively in sleep all captured my heart immediately upon our introduction.
Yet it was the realization that this little person has everything he needs in teeny-tiny construction that completely astounded me. Watching his little belly rise and fall, touching skin so incredibly smooth that I could barely feel it at all, seeing him try out all of the ways his facial muscles can move as he prepares to wake: the reality of what can emerge after 40 short weeks is beyond words. Truly, he is a miracle.
And that word – miracle – was both the exact right word for what my nephew is, and an uncomfortable one on which I found myself reflecting. In particular, the question that plagued me in that single syllable was not anything about his beauty, but of my own. I am certain of his magic. What happened to being certain of mine?
I say this as a thirty-something American woman who, throughout my life, has struggled with a sense of awareness of my physical appearance that has, more often than I like to admit, translated into a regular practice of scrutinizing my flaws. Over time, I’ve come to understand that when, for example, I lament how I look, it is actually indicative of some other stress or unhappiness in my life. It’s often easier to take my anxiety out on myself, and my physical self is always right there, just waiting; my criticism of it becomes my shadow.
But in my nephew’s presence, when his simple existence is enthralling, when hours passed with the pure enchantment of watching him, I was forced to think about myself in a different light. Yes, of course my body has been battered and bruised, and I have scars that mark the passage of time – but does that remove the inherent beauty of it?
Over the years, my body has done amazing things for me – most of which, coming in the form of everyday, unconscious necessities of survival, I never recognize. It’s given me delight, pleasure, joy; it’s taken me places, given me things to see, allowed me to taste, listen, feel, and surrender. I can walk, run, jump, leap, and twirl, pretty much to my heart’s content.
Still, I often feel like I’m not enough. I am ashamed of this. I know how lucky I am, to have an abundance of health at my hands; it is a rare departure when I have been ill or injured. But I still, sometimes automatically, without even thinking, criticize myself for the silliest of things: how I look in a swimsuit, whether my hair is frizzy, if I should have plucked my eyebrows before an event.
I don’t stop to think about the miracle that is my hands, chattering away on this keyboard at this very moment and instantly translating my thoughts for me. I don’t take the time, in the mornings, to think of how amazing it is that I can simply open my eyes and look around at a room where I choose to sleep, nor do I take the time to recognize all the many facts about my morning and my location that I take in automatically. I ignore the fact that my breath is steady, even, and comes without thinking, and I take for granted, too, that I can hear the smallest of sounds waft through my awareness, enriching my experience of living almost without cessation.
What would it mean to really see, feel, and understand all of those things? The words meditation, awareness, presence come to mind.
So does my nephew’s name.
Being around that sweet little boy – watching him explore the world around him; literally seeing the moments when he could focus for the first time and knowing that in that, he has entered an amazing new world – convinced me that he is a miracle. And it forced me to ask myself, when did I stop being one?
The truth is, for all my flaws and fumbling, I never did stop. I never will. And guess what? You never will, either. You are every bit as astounding as a newborn.
So let’s pick ourselves up and walk boldly and bravely into the lives, trying out this idea instead of all the ways we distract ourselves and detract from ourselves. I dare you: just for today, let yourself be the miracle that you are. Way out here, in Northern California, I’ll do the same.
I have a feeling that there’s some power in this realization. Let me know what happens; if it’s good, I’ll be sure to thank my nephew on your behalf, whispering into his tiny, perfect ear the next time I see him. He may not understand the words themselves quite yet, but I have no doubt that he’ll pick up on their intention.