Once in blue moon there was a child with wide and curious eyes. She looked at her reflection in the river and asked, “Am I beautiful?” The echo of a “No,” resonated in her chest. The child compared herself to others and never did she live up to society. All she wanted was to be beautiful. To feel it in every cell of her body. She thought there had to be some equation that would determine beauty, so she dedicated her adolescence to its discovery.
She took into account every detail she thought was significant. Weight. The measure of the gap between her thighs. The length, texture, and color of her hair. The size and hue of her eyes. The volume of her lips. The rate at which her hips swayed. The proportions of her breasts to her nipples. The pitch of her voice and laughter. The intellectual capacity of her brain waves transmitting thoughts into words. Every detail she marked as “important.” Nothing went unmeasured. Yet every time she calibrated the equation the output was always the same.
As the years passed the tears lessoned, not because she felt beautiful, but because her inner river was running dry. Ready to give up, she walked to the river one last time. As she looked down into the water, she said without question, “Am I beautiful.” Silence. There were no more tears.
Then like a whisper off the wind, a voice from behind her said, “Is someone there?” The woman turned around to find an older man whom appeared lost. He held a walking stick and wore dark rimmed glasses.
“Yes, I am here,” said the woman, upset to be intruded in her last moments of solitude.
“My apologies for interrupting,” said the man, “Something called me here.”
The woman was silent and watched the man curiously as she twisted the ends of her hair around her fingertips. The space between them expanded and contracted.
“Don’t be shy,” said the man. “Tell me miss, what are you doing here?”
The woman paused then released her breath. “I come to the river to ask questions.” Another pause then she said, “Well, one question.”
“I see,” said the man. “And what question is that?”
The woman, knowing the torment would soon be over, felt compelled to share her pain with this strange man. “I come to look at my reflection and ask the river if I am beautiful.” She told the man of her search for how to calculate beauty. And of her failure. The man listened without interrupting. He listened and absorbed every word, every essence of the words that the woman spoke. When she was done, there was a long silence.
“Let me tell you a story,” said the man. “When I was a young man, I used to admire myself in the mirror and glorify my beauty. Beauty to me was a combination of attributes, an equation one might say. Little did I know that I was blind. As I grew, I became more consumed by the beauty of men and women. I was in a terrible accident many years ago. People lost their lives. I lost my vision. At the time I felt like I had lost everything, but I had gained more than I could possibly imagine. It wasn’t until I lost my vision that I learned to see and feel true beauty. The eyes are incapable of seeing beauty, unless it is felt with the heart. The heart knows beauty; it is drawn to it, and it has brought me to you. I may be blind in the physical sense, but I know beauty when I feel it. And you, my dear, are absolutely beautiful.”
The woman could not contain her tears any longer. She let out a gasp and they streamed down her cheeks. Yet they were not the same tears she had become so familiar with. They were the tears of illusions being shed. They were the tears of liberation, of acceptance and understanding.
The woman turned to the river and when she peered over the bank she looked at her reflection. In her own reflection she saw the souls of those who have loved her and whom she has loved. She saw the man with his dark rimmed glasses, the birth of a child and the death of a four-legged companion. She saw the twinkling of sunlight on the ripples, the trees reaching out over the river and the array of colorful rocks illuminating the bottom. In her reflection she saw the beauty of the entire world radiating back at her. She closed her eyes and for the first time, she felt a surge from her heart and every cell in her body that said, “I am beautiful.”