I originally wrote this piece in March 2015. At the time I was undergoing months of treatment for Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia, including chemotherapy and high doses of Prednisone, causing my face to puff up and my hair to fall. Read on to discover how I found a moment of tender acceptance at my local DMV.
I've just recently finished reading an essay in Elizabeth Lesser's book "Broken Open," about Peter, a young man dying from AIDS. His life & spirit are testimony to Mary Oliver's most famous quote, "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild & precious life?" In his last remaining months, Peter throws himself heart and soul into, of all things, karaoke, culminating in a very public performance of Frank Sinatra’s "That's Life." I feel moved to play the song as I reread the essay about Peter's too-short life. Then, once finished, I play the song again, singing loudly and off-key,
"Each time I find myself flat on my face,
I pick myself up and get back in the race,"
I sing and I cry, feeling flat on my face, yet also determined to pick myself up and get back in the race.
Yesterday at the DMV, I encountered a personally harsh reality in an inescapable way... my driver's license photo. I asked the clerk to use my current photo, a flattering image of me from 8 years ago. The image projects vitality, joy and an embracing of Mary Oliver's "wild and precious life." But, no, I am told, a current photo was required. Standing on my mark, I offered the camera a weak smile, not feeling capable of anything more. When presented with the preview, I literally came face to face with my face.
My cheeks look puffy, "prednisone moon face" it's sometimes called. My eyes are sunken, surrounded by dark circles. Marionette lines run deeply around my mouth. My coloring is far from robust or vital. I see a woman who looks tired and broken. In that moment, I remember Peter, and something within me shifts. I ask the woman if she would please take my photo again. This time, I smile from a place that says, I am beautiful in a way that won't be measured by this photo, and I can smile because I am here, surviving what life brings me. The resulting photo does not change my puffy face, but the smile says, “Peter, this one’s for you.”
My moon face receded as my 6 months of treatment came to an end. Today, my overall health is better, although symptoms of autoimmune disorders never really disappear. Unlike Peter, I am blessed to still live my “wild & precious life.” My driver’s license? Last time around, I had the option to visit the DMV for a new photo, or skip the trip and keep the current one. I’m sticking with Moon Face. She represents my resilience, and she reminds me that life holds no guarantees. We fall down, we dust off, we rise again. In honor of Peter and all life’s resilient folks, I cue up Sinatra and sing along. Next time you find yourself flat on your face, maybe you will, too...
Peter used karaoke to embrace life during a difficult time. What's something you turned toward during a time of struggle?