I was busy shelving books as part of my library volunteer duties, when two 1st grade patrons walked in. The taller of the two girls sauntered right up to me and said with righteous indignation, “She said you are ugly.” As she launched her accusation, she tossed her head accusingly towards the little sprite coming in behind her. The tiny girl was dressed head to toe in pink and hid a wry smile behind her library book. It was a classic power play as all tatteling is. One child judging and sanctimoniously ratting out another. The accused looked up at me, perhaps unsure of my response but ready with a wide eyed denial. Not knowing either one of them, I took the high road and simply said, “Welcome to the library!” The little one seemed surprised or maybe it was relief that swept across her face as she turned to put her book in the return slot.
As I went back to shelving books, I wondered what the “ugly” was that she saw in me. Was it my gray hair badly in need of a cut? Maybe she saw the age spots and creases that I sometimes obsess over in the mirror, or perhaps it was simply my drab outfit devoid of color except for the bright buff around my neck? Of course, these were just passing thoughts. I have enough confidence and self worth to buffer my self esteem from the supposed slights of a six year old. I thought little of more of it and happily went back to shelving books.
Later that same day, I thought of the remark again as I was leaving church. It was Ash Wednesday, and I was sporting a black smudge on my forehead. I wondered what my little friend would think of me now. Smiling at the thought, I hoped she would one day come to know what took years for me to grasp. True, lasting beauty doesn’t reside outside of us, but within.
The scriptures I had just heard reminded me that Lent offers us a time to go within and find quiet. It is often in quiet that I know my ok-ness and perhaps even my beauty. More importantly, it is in those moments of quiet certitude and faith that I know all beings are beautiful. As I walked to my car and headed back into my day, I wished I could impart my understanding of true beauty to the little library patron and her tattletale friend. I wished I could tell them true beauty isn’t something we see. It is something we are loved into knowing. Yet I knew my words would have sounded like a lesson or worse an admonishment. Maybe all those two little girls needed to hear this Ash Wednesday was simply, “Welcome to the library!” ~c.h.
© Catherine Hause