I have never let myself consider the possibility that its absence could be a permanent state of affairs. That would be too, too cruel.
I haven’t allowed myself to grieve the loss of her former face at all.
It is a loss.
Twenty seven years ago today, I saw those enormous blue eyes for the first time. Two huge, aqua pools stared at me as she latched on, full of questions and immediate, intense love. The nurses commented that this was no ordinary baby. She was born looking much older than a newborn....almost a Benjamin Button baby. She had the face of a sage. Her hair was already quite long, and she reminded me a little of a wise, old man. It’s hard to describe. She was different...unique....special.
To say that Katherine was “full of life” is a ridiculous understatement. Even as a baby, her face was a constantly changeable mask of animation. We realized that she was probably going to be an actress by age two. What drama those big eyes could express...what pathos, what ecstasy, what righteous indignation! That little face was never still unless she was asleep...especially the mouth. I’ve never seen a baby that could talk so much, so early. Illustration: When I was pregnant with my second one, Katherine went up to some poor woman at the grocery store and tugged at her skirt. When the woman looked around, she said, “See my mommy over dere? She has a baby in her tummy. She’s goin’ to the hospital and the doctor’s gonna help her PUUUUUUSSSSSSSSSSHHHH it out!” It was only after having two others that I realized how unusual that was for a 21- or 22-month-old. (I have a hard time imagining James making a speech like that in a couple of months.)
Most of you who know Katherine will probably agree that she was one of the most ‘animated’ people of your acquaintance. (Those of you who don’t can verify this statement by watching her appearance on Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? She almost blew Jeff Foxworthy off the stage.) But although Katherine’s speech was highly expressive, her face could speak volumes without a word. Her face was an open book, an invitation into her passionate soul. She went through a particularly awkward Awkward Stage, gawkily towering over all the boys in her grade for a couple of years. But as Katherine grew up, she grew into her body and grew to be beautiful. Her face was particularly so. It opened many doors for her. Beauty seems to do that in our culture. It ultimately provided a livelihood.
But Katherine has always been one of the least vain people on the planet. Unlike the rest of the female family members, she hates buying clothes, putting on makeup, jewelry, any of the girly stuff. She just doesn’t like to waste the time when she could be doing something more constructive...usually something having to do with ministering to other people. I used to beg her to at least put on a little makeup before heading out the door....in ironical imitation of my mother beseeching me to “Just put on a little lipstick...” in the zipper-part hippie days of the early 70’s.
“The sins of the mothers.......”
As a culture, we are obsessed with physical beauty. (Dear Lord, what have I spent on creams and potions and camouflage in the past few years??? Please forgive me...) Interestingly, Katherine and Jay gave me the book, You, Being Beautiful by Drs. Oz (Oprah fame) and Roizen, as one of my Christmas presents. Although I haven’t had time to read it yet, I was intrigued by some of the information in the first chapter. The authors write,
“Beauty is not as much a physical property of the person, but an end product of a complex mental process that translates millions of meaningless dots of light on the back of our retinas into 3D shapes, objects, and faces. Embedded in the software of the mind is a set of rules that are used to decode these real “bytes” of visual information. These observations are automatic—a beauty reflex, if you will.” (The docs go on to explain “phi” and the golden ratio that exists in nature. )“Phi is also a driving force in human attraction—men and women around the globe prefer a mate whose face is symmetrical and follows this ratio....The most information-dense visible area in nature is the human face, so we process a small area of the face and extend our conclusions to the entire surface. The richest connection of nerve and muscle density in the body is actually around the larynx (voice box) and the face is second—underscoring how important it is that you read subtle messages through speech and body language. The theory is that the more symmetrical a face, the healthier it is. ...Scientists also believe that symmetry is equated with a strong immune system—indicating that more robust genes make a person more attractive.”
...So, there is a scientific explanation for why our first impulse is to judge a book by its cover.
Intellectually, we know that all beauty is transitory, fleeting, ephemeral. “The grass withers, and the flowers fade...” But Katherine’s face, rather than enduring the gradual ravaging of time that most suffer, was altered abruptly, violently. Its symmetry has been destroyed. It is as if Katherine awakened from a dream to find that a cruel joke had been played on her: Her face has been stolen, replaced by a strange mask she doesn’t recognize. How terrifyingly vertiginous, to stare in the mirror at a complete stranger.
It’s a very good thing Katherine’s greatest strength is in knowing where her identity truly lies. Although this core belief has been tested beyond the breaking point, it has held fast.
Still, she is human. She particularly hates seeing pictures of herself now. Every Christmas morning (for 20-something years now) we always make the kids sit on the stairs in descending order of age for a photo op before the mad dash into the family room. This year, just as I snapped the shot, Katherine grabbed the right corner of her mouth and forceably held it up in a smile. It makes her angry that it won’t behave.
It makes me very angry, too.
I’ve been thinking about a line from a Dylan Thomas poem: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” He was talking about the process of aging and death. But I am raging against the dying of the light in Katherine’s eyes, the light that entered a room with her brilliant smile.
I know someone who creates light, however. I am asking the creator of light and beauty to restore his ravaged work of art, his marred creation. I don’t think it’s inappropriate to ask. I believe he hates it even more than I do when the other side messes up his good works.
I believe he loves to restore, rebuild, recreate. The whole Book is the story of that. From page 1 to page 1000+something, it is the story of the restoration of a marred creation. The restoration of all good and beautiful things.
I know that he will accomplish his purposes. I know that he will ultimately restore everything that has been lost, including Katherine’s smile. But I don’t know when. It may serve his greater purposes for this prayer to be answered later than I would like. Perhaps it may not be until Katherine sees him face to face. I pray that it will be before then. But I believe she—and all of us who miss that smile the most--will be given the grace to accept his timing.
In the meantime, her inner radiance suffuses the surface so that, in reality, she has never been more beautiful.
“Show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely. (Song of Songs 2:14) Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. (Ps. 34:5) ...and her face was no longer downcast.(I Samuel 1:18)
Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.(I John 3:2) Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. (I Cor. 13:12) And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.(II Cor. 3:2)
(Although I began this on Katherine’s birthday, March 8, I am finishing it on the 11th, which is the day she happens to be going for a facial surgery consultation. Please join us in praying for wisdom.)