Last week, I was on my way into work, driving the Pennsylvania turnpike as usual, when I pulled into the toll plaza and handed the tolltaker guy my cash, as I've done five days a week for a whole lot of years. He's a familiar face, and I've encountered him a couple of times a week for a good long while. Nice guy, smiles a lot. The usual.
Except - this time he asked me if I wanted a receipt. Weird, because I never do, but not a completely strange request. I said no, he hesitated a moment longer, and then finally confessed that he's seen me come through the tolls for years now and always meant to tell me that he thinks I'm beautiful.
I turned red, thanked him, and headed off to work, where I spent the day wondering where the hell that came from, and what to do with it.
Then I posted on Facebook about it. Some guy found me beautiful. Isn't that crazy! And very, very nice. But what do I do with that? I polled the masses. I mean, is that flirting? Or just being nice? What do I do with that?
And the masses that are my friends and readers wrote back to say "You're beautiful!" "Go with it!" "Enjoy the compliment!" and they're right, of course. I should just be pleased some guy said something nice that he didn't have to say and bask in it. But it was my old pal and frequent inspiration, author Suzanne Finnamore who grounded me with her remark:
"You take it to heart, and know yourself beautiful."
It made me think, and of course, that's because Suzanne is a woman who wields her words with fierce finesse. Know yourself beautiful.
And I remembered being twenty years old, standing outside a building on my college campus in the late afternoon sun. He was standing before me, an apology on his lips - the same apology he'd given me over and over for his same brutish, controlling, manipulative behavior. The same apology I'd taken with a self-deprecating shrug too many times, trampling over my true self in a rush to be back in his arms.
I stood there in the the sunlight, listening, and really hearing him, maybe for the first time. Hearing the hollow ring in those words. Hearing the smug assumption behind them that once he got this apology over with, all would be as it was. I turned my head away and the breeze lifted my hair and the sun splashed on my face, and he must've known his words weren't ringing true to me. I turned my eyes to him fiercely and he stopped talking, staring hard at me.
"You are so beautiful." He'd whispered. And it wasn't a platitude. I had literally struck him dumb for a moment. I had the sunlight turning my blonde hair into a halo, the wind lifting it slightly, my skin flushed with warmth and my blue eyes blazing fire and I knew - I knew I was beautiful. I was beauty incarnate in that moment and I was more than who I made myself be with him. I was more.
That particular boyfriend was history, not much longer after that.
I think about that moment still, sometimes. The years have gone by and I don't have that twenty year old body anymore. It wasn't my body I was feeling entirely in that moment, though. I was beautiful because I just was. Because someone recognized it, and made me see it and feel it and inhabit it.
A common toll-taker called me out on it last week, and my friends echoed his words. And Suzanne, you pulled me down and made me own it, and I thank you. I needed that. You can't know how badly. I am more than I let myself think I am.
I am beautiful, and I am more.
Why, as women, don't we feel our own beauty like we should? Maybe we don't have to feel it every waking moment, but we ought to.
We need to know ourselves beautiful a lot more often than we do.