The beauty of a woman isn’t in the clothes she wears, or the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes; Because that’s the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.
When I was growing up, I always wanted to be as pretty as one friend. She always seemed to have the confidence, and the friends, that I lacked. She could do everything wrong and be tousled in her jammies and do it with the grace I lacked. I always felt inferior. She moved away about the time I went into high school. While I missed her, I was a little relieved; I loved her dearly but didn’t feel I’d ever get a boyfriend as long as she was around. I’ve never felt pretty or graceful, so I began to study people who had what I wanted.
My Latin teacher during those years was the amazing Mrs. Kline, the most beautiful, witty 73 year old I ever traveled the world with. She had the biggest, kindest eyes I’ve ever seen. They were her most winsome feature. When she told us that she’d gone through a windshield and sustained heavy scarring in a car accident in her 20’s, we were stunned. We saw no evidence. She smiled and said we should begin taking care of our skin now, before age began to show. I still chuckle at how easily she accepted the compliment, yet deflected it back for our betterment. I prayed that I would be like Mrs. Kline: more beautiful at 70 than at 20, inside and out.
Mrs. Kline was no Greta Garbo; her beauty was fully within her, but it overflowed to exude out her every pore. I never knew anybody who didn’t love her. While the other language clubs foundered, we had a guest list for Latin Club meetings. She made everything fun.
Our toga party and slave sale was a packed house. Many of the parents came just to watch. My freshman year, I was sold to the class president, who quickly plunged me into Roman servanthood. I peeled grapes and dropped them into his mouth. I was directed to a small stack of pond fronds in the corner and obediently fanned him with one. I stupidly thought I’d get to eat dinner at this event, since there was an amazing spread the mothers had provided. No. Matt desired some saucy beef cubes that I fed him with my fingers and then fetched a glass of juice. No – lemonade would be better. I went back for a new glass. He caught me snitching a cookie off his plate and switched me with the handle of the frond in front of the entire assemblage. He said I would learn to be a good slave. It was all in good fun. Those were the days, and I didn’t pass on the brutality very well when I was a senior and bought my own slave.
But I digress. What drew us all to Mrs. Kline was the way she inspired those in her sphere to greatness by looking each one in the eye and loving them right where they were. She was the quintessential teacher, yet that was not just a role she played or job she held. It was who she was; she loved every person around her. The path she had trod through life had let her down at spots and tripped her up at others. She had come to appreciate the rough parts as opportunities for growth and sincerely wanted to help us through them.
What she knew – and I didn’t actually grasp until much later – was that, while we are each on separate trails, the ways are similar. Nobody is better or lesser than any other. The only difference at the end of the day is whether we have allowed those bangs and bruises to be fatal. We cannot walk another’s path, and we are forced to continue to walk until the day we die. Life does not stop, even if we choose to. We must therefore continue to strive for success and encourage the ones walking nearby.
I thought, that night at the toga party, that I was finally accepted because I was with Matt. I felt so beautiful. But who owned me or sat with me didn’t matter. Sitting quietly by, in my plain white sheet, fanning my master and peeling grapes, beauty actually resulted from doing my duty. It was in the quiet tending to my charge and the happiness I derived from being there. The other slaves that bucked their tasks noisily brought shame to their masters and humility on themselves. The party just wasn’t fun with rebellion afoot. It didn’t matter what brand of sheet I wore or how much I weighed. My beauty, as my master’s, was enhanced by how well we each played our own roles.
My friend and I have covered some serious ground between grade school and now. I am so happy that our paths have recrossed. She is so much more beautiful today – her skin is just as smooth and her hair just as shiny – but it’s the inside of her that shines now. Just like Mrs. Kline, the road she has trod has polished her into a beautiful gem. I can only hope that mine is doing the same.
***Unfortunately, I could not locate any photos of Mrs. Kline or the Latin Club parties. These photos are where I went with them in ’82…. I had so prayed that my trembling hands would not affect my photos. But the statue of David is so very alive: it is unnerving to be in his presence. I’ve never seen a photo do him justice; I have been so blessed to have had the opportunity to see Michaelangelo’s work in person.