I sat on a couch that positively enveloped me in its acceptance in a second-hand bookstore to skim over a potential purchase. Across from me, in an equally inviting chair, sat an elderly woman with a walker parked in front of her. She was dressed in a neatly pressed blouse, a khaki-colored straight skirt, and pumps to match. I smiled and greeted her and received a gentle, if somewhat blank, look in return.
I became engrossed in the tome I had chosen from the ‘Art’ section and was reading a diary entry by Andy Warhol when I noticed feet approach and stop in front of the lady. An elderly man dressed in slacks, shirt and sweater had approached her chair. He was hunched over in the way we see gravity take its effect on older bones. He held her walker in place, as it was one of the kind with rollers which makes it easier to maneuver, as she got up. With gentle guidance he pointed her in the direction of the closest exit. It was a tender scene but what happened as they headed away touched me more than all that had gone before.
The man was following her out and reached up to gently straighten the wispy, thin, gray hair at the nape of her neck. The gesture made me think about unconditional love. These people didn’t love each other because of their appearance. The love in that simple gesture was profound.
I spent most of my life in households and environments where love, or approval, was withheld in various fashions if I didn’t meet certain qualifying states. As a child, I was expected to excel in my schoolwork, not get my ‘good’ clothes mussed, and always, always behave like a little adult. Later I was expected to look a certain way to receive ‘love’, never weigh too much or too little, a yardstick that fluctuated depending on the eyes in which I was reflected. In short, I have spent my life trying to be the ‘baby bear’s porridge’….just right!
But the ‘just right’ expectations left me unfulfilled and decidedly discontent. It was time to try on my own skin even if that meant imperfection. I was no longer trying to walk a perfect line like I had tried to do before and many who knew me were appalled. The new ‘conditions’ didn’t meet their requirements and therefore I had to be making a huge mistake, right? Wrong. Where I landed was in a pool of previously unimaginable bliss. I could finally be myself for the first time in….well…..ever.
This has been facilitated by the love of a man who accepts my features and my outlook – even if our viewpoints don’t always coincide. His lack of judgment based on externals has helped me begin to see myself unconditionally. Granted I’m not to the loving-myself stage – likely never will be. The voices of a lifetime often clamor to drown out the absolute nature of his love.
But with each day in the reflection of his love I see myself less as what I look like and more as what I am. I am a woman and a girl. A woman approaching the autumn of life and the changes that brings. But I am a girl who still loves to blow bubbles and look for shapes in the clouds and go barefoot. And, maybe most importantly, I am an artist.
The different career clothes I’ve tried on through my life, while I could pull the look off, never fit. Now in a paint-stained smock and clothes I can get ‘mussed’ I have finally found my life’s ‘costume’. I am in my ‘just right’ spot. I love to paint. I need to paint. I am doing what I deeply know is my ‘calling’.
I may never sell a piece of work; I will not create works in the ‘popular’ styles of the current ‘art’ world. I will never get rich, monetarily, from this pursuit. But you were right Ms. M, even though you meant it differently, It IS “Okay”.