Beauty – Part 1

To date, this is my favorite photograph.  I took it as a senior in high school on a Nikon 35 mm SLR.  These are the hands and feet of my late grandmother, Myra Lee Pullis.  

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We called her “Granny” and I have the sweetest memories of her and the pure and simple love that she lavished on me.  I remember spending the night at her house and eating canned chicken soup for lunch (Granny did not care much for cooking) on old bronze and wood veneer TV trays, picking ripe blackberries on our neighborhood walks, and savoring the nectar of the honeysuckle that climbed the back of her chainlink fence.  I remember curling up in her soft, thin lap in the evenings while she sank into in her cushy, brown, ribbed fabric recliner watching Wheel of Fortune and scratching my back, then bathing in rose scented bubble bath in her turquoise tub, and sleeping in her cozy full-sized bed with her and my little sister while a box fan whirred all night on a nearby dresser.  She didn’t have a lot of money and our activities were rarely extravagant, but she cherished us and always made time for us.  I will never forget that.  Or her.

She thought I was a certified pistachio when I asked her to take her shoes off in my mom’s backyard so that I could photograph her hands and feet for art class.  But this was not a novel sentiment for her to express or for me to inspire, and though I attempted to reason with her about the beauty that I saw in her aged appearance, she did not understand or require such explanations and proceeded to comply in trust and good humor.

But the beauty I see in this image still makes my heart ache.

I see wisdom and the marks of a long life granted to a sweet soul.  I see the wear of grief, joy, worry, work, accomplishment…of life.  I see skin stretched thin with toil, bones that protrude slightly in remembrance of all the long walks she’d liked to take, the heads full of curls she’d taken such pains to brush gently.  Her blood vessels, swelling in reflection of their long use and faithful service to a woman who’d spent herself caring for others.

That is beauty.  To love.  To spend yourself loving God and people.  To know and to see the gift in a life well-lived, however lengthy or brief it unfolds to be.  And all the scars, wrinkles, imperfections  and reflections of our journeys – to embrace that they represent the opportunity we’ve been given to live and to love at all.

*Photograph by Cristina Howell


Opt Out of the Drama

It seems like there are constantly new sensationalist blog posts, videos and articles going viral online and igniting very real frenzies of fear, anger and disunity.  This happens in politics, medicine and virtually any field of thought in which heated controversy tends to find it’s way and stamp out all reason and good will in favor of hysteria.   

Most recently an embarrassingly unsubstantiated news article made it’s rounds, purporting that essential oils caused some negative reactions in children, the most significant of which (dilated pupils) has never been recorded as a side effect of the use or misuse of any essential oil.  The evidence in support of the article’s claim was shamefully lacking.  It was a textbook example of the reckless journalistic mistake of equating correlation to causation, but you would never know it for the times the link to the article was shared on social media or for the emotional uproar left in the wake of the story.  There were certainly people who approached the information objectively but many simply reacted – instantly becoming afraid, angry, confused, and often never so much as questioning the evidence,  lack of evidence or discussing whether or not the assertions made were even true.   In fact the opposite occurred – many of those same individuals reposted the link, further spreading the groundless story and the madness.   Some who seemed to share the article more sober-mindedly were perhaps attempting to use it as an opportunity to teach that essential oils should be used with wisdom, an honorable goal;  however, fear is a monstrous teacher and inciting anger tends to fuel resentment and compel the receiver of the message to run to whatever conclusions can found at the opposite extreme.

Information is good and disagreement isn’t bad;  it can even be beneficial.    Respectful, openminded discussion gives us all a chance to share – to hear and to be heard, to learn and to grow regardless of whether or not we agree on a particular matter in the end.   And we can share resources, discuss and even disagree with honor and grace.  We can promote these principles in our social media and in-person communities and we can discourage the mania, disrespect and strife that make them unsafe and that actually cause people to become closed off and defensive rather than open to the ideas being shared.  We can learn to recognize and reject “information” that can be more accurately defined as tabloid journalism, fear mongering or propaganda.

I am very emotional by nature myself, so keeping my composure and sticking to facts when discussing something that I feel strongly about is something that I have to make a continual and conscious effort to do – and apologize for my not-so-infrequent failures to do!  I hope never to convey that I am “above” all of this.  I care so very much about this topic and reference it so frequently partly because it is something that I wrestle with myself everyday.

I encourage you to distance yourself as much as is reasonably possible from ANYTHING – resources (like articles and blog posts), groups, people, organizations, etc. that regularly promotes sensationalism, hostility and other ugly and toxic suppressors of intellect.  Don’t “share” on social media the evidence-sparse, hype-heavy stories and support the ratings that irresponsible journalists and bloggers so desperately crave.  Don’t participate in conversations at work where others speak hostilely or condescendingly of those with whom they disagree.  There are some mean-spirited Face Book groups out there that do a great deal more harm than good spewing hatred and negativity about what they don’t believe rather than rationally presenting arguments and peacefully sharing what they do believe – consider removing yourself from those groups!  Connect with those who value people more than making a point, being “right” or stirring the pot. 

No matter what our opinions or how we differ it is kindness and reasonableness, not irrationality and disdain, that nourish atmospheres of teaching, learning, growth and true community. 


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