I think I can distill anything I ever wanted in life down to one simple thing: to feel pretty. I was never overly ambitious in the looks department. Beautiful wasn’t on my dream vocabulary list. Just pretty. I wanted to be pretty. And I have tried desperately my entire life to learn how to feel, look, be that elusive thing, to become that pretty self, that self that I can picture in my mind but so rarely see in the mirror.
I wish I could comfort the younger version of Megan and tell her she would one day feel pretty all the time. Really, really wish I could.
Nope, can’t do it. Reality is that as a matured woman it is incredibly rare that I feel pretty. I don’t feel pretty often, partly because my body is always trying to power itself down, I suppose. But it’s there, the pretty is there. It’s just incredibly rare and fleeting.
I have studied myself a lot this year, and I believe I have figured out the secret to feeling pretty:
Let me begin with what prettiness does not depend upon: Whether or not I showered that day; if my hair is done (or even brushed); if my clothes are fashionable or fitting (or even on); my weight; whether or not I’m on my period; if my nails are painted; if I’m in a relationship or single.
Nope. None of it matters. The pretty magic only happens when (it’s so simple!) I’m with someone who engages me, draws me out, sees me. Someone who gets it, who understands that life is just a shit show of pain and then a curtain drawing. Not kidding. Sounds a bit dull, right? But it’s the truth. That’s the only time I feel pretty. For example, when I found the refugees, I felt pretty. Soooo pretty. I can’t tell you how pretty Fatuma made me feel when we would work on her handwriting together. When I found the migrants, I felt pretty. Graciela? Gosh, she made me feel so pretty, while we were doing all those dishes. When I talk to my best friend Beth, who loves movies the way I love movies and listens to music the way I listen to music, I feel pretty. When me and Sufjan are sitting on the couch six hours at a time, figuring out how we would establish peace in the Middle East, gosh, I feel pretty.
So pretty has absolutely nothing to do with how I look, even how I feel that day. It is based entirely upon the ability to connect with another. When I feel that connection, I feel pretty. If I don’t feel the connection, I feel alone. And that feels anything but pretty.
I have to continue and bring you up to date, though: I cannot begin to describe how lonely the past year has been. The past 32 have been pretty lonely, but this one–it blew all the others out of the water. Maybe it’s the diet (I don’t know anyone in person who follows it as I do). Or maybe it’s the fact that I have stopped my human rights work. Or maybe it’s just that I have withdrawn so much in my daily life and just have more hermit time than may have been normal in the past.
Whatever it was or is, I haven’t felt pretty at all. I have felt only shame, this shame that suffocates all the sinners and molds all the saints. But I don’t have the energy, honestly, to seek out that connection. I can’t do it. I’m so tired, so burned out. It has just….I have ceased to want to be pretty. I don’t know if that’s the terrorism talking, or if it’s really me–maybe it’s all the trauma?
But I don’t feel pretty, and I don’t feel any ambition for it anymore. Not even close. I keep waiting for it, for some surprise. I wait for God’s gracious desire for prettiness to show up underneath my pillow in the mornings–fall asleep leaving my shame underneath and wake up nervous and excited, like a kid eager to see if the tooth fairy has come or not. I want him to exchange the dry bones for some petty cash, something useful, like prettiness. But it’s empty underneath the pillow. It’s so empty.
I know I can’t leave this little essay with just that, so I will add this: When I was young, I prayed God would make me pretty. Now I pray that God would grant me the ability to connect with others, with him. Forget the pretty. The world can keep pretty. I just want the connection, nothing more.