It’s been a bit since I have heard unsolicited words shouted over me. Negative words. Words spoken that were intended to hurt and make you want to fold up inside yourself.
But then just the other day there appeared an old man on the road who felt it was his right to yell at two women about the very insecurities that we already believed to be magnified. Our own worst “things” being shouted as we walked past him.
In that instant, the short hunched old man became the people from my past.
He became that boy from my senior year in high school. He became the mean girls. He became the stares and the loud whispers that I felt and heard my entire cancer battle.
I was just out for a walk to get some steps on my fitbit and enjoy the sunshine - a rarity in Los Angeles right now- and spending an hour of free time catching up with a friend. I mean seriously. I have a 10K step goal to hit each day. Who has time to be reminded of all of this pain mid week, in 72 degree weather with no activities scheduled the rest of the day?! Apparently me.
My insides churned. He struck a chord deep in my soul. A fire burned inside my belly. The momma bear came out to protect us. The pain of my past. The pain of hearing passer-bys comments...feeling their stares. The pain of cancer was just part of it.
After the walk, I sat still in my car to collect my thoughts… I closed my eyes and felt the mental tapes reverberating through my soul…
The pain of name calling as a teen.
The pain of my son telling me he was teased for how he looks.
The pain that a little girl felt when she was barraged with foul words for her innocent behavior.
The pain of sitting in the hallway all alone. The cold cement and the cold lockers that provided warmth during the lunch hour while people pointed and laughed at you.
The pain of having cancer strip away “all of me.”
After fighting through those storms,struggles, “the hard stuff’ - bullying, teasing, staring, cancer fighting, birthing babies, job stresses, financial strain, divorce, whatever those struggles are….you realize that they really make us who we are today. As annoying as that is to hear and even harder to believe…
I think each situation, refines us into a better version of ourselves. Don’t be fooled by the cute instragram photos, everyone of us has stuff and will always have stuff. Teeny tiny “stuff” to the great big “stuffs”…. The Big C. “The Big D- and I don’t mean Dallas.” (who else knows this song?!!. ) Most of our stuff is hidden inside our shells. It’s easy to keep things to ourselves when the outside looks great. It’s harder when we bravely start to wear our battle scars and let them be seen.
Those struggles, my stuff, literally turned my feet around on the sunny warm sidewalk and marched my body right up to the 5’5” man, with the silver hair and blue pants pulled up too high with his black belt and blue shirt tucked in. Those struggles had me look him straight into his eyes through his thick, slightly yellowed glasses and boldly tell him, “You don’t know what she’s going through. You DO NOT have the right to say shout those things.You never have the right. You shouldn’t say things to people. You have no idea what people are battling.” I did poke him in the shoulder too. Hard. A few times. It felt like the right move. I would have stuck out my tongue too -- if that was appropriate but it wasn’t.. So I didn’t.
Cancer takes away so much. As soon as you hear you have cancer, you begin to strive to keep some sense of normalcy all the while realizing that there is, in fact, very little that can be controlled. When your body begins to show the outward signs of the treatment, the pain, the struggle, the battle, that’s when the world notices.
Spotty hair and crazy curls.
NOT. MY. BODY. This is not what I feel like on the inside. This is cancer. This is what CANCER looks like. Not me. The reflection I see when I walk by the mirror, as infrequently as possible mind you, is not me.
(I often shocked myself when I would walk look in the mirror as I went to the bathroom. I hated the outward version of myself. HATED IT. )
And even now twelve years later, I still work each day to accept my body as it is now. It’s a struggle that occurs WAY more often than it should.
Guess what? It’s also NOT. YOUR. BODY. Old man. Sir. It’s not up for discussion.
It’s not ok to pass judgement on someone else’s body. Period.
When you see me. When you see him. When you see her. Remember you don’t know that battle they are walking through right now.
To the old man on the road … I know I told you to your face AND poked your hunched shoulder with my finger. But guess what you don’t have power over us. Will things be changed in our life because you felt the need to shame a women’s body? Nope. Because it’s not your body. You don’t get to comment on it. Hopefully, though you will think. Hopefully, your mouth will turn into a smile instead of spewing criticism. I saw your sad lonely eyes. I wondered about your wife. Maybe she’s gone now. I hope you loved her well. She also may have been at the market. If so, I hope you love and encourage her in the best way.
To my cancer-warriors.
You may not feel beautiful on the outside… that your shell doesn’t match the spirit and soul of who you are. It’s not your body. We see you. We see the best of you shining through. It’s in your eyes. It’s in your laugh. It’s in your walk and how you always hold your hands just so. It’s in the way you smile through those tears and allow the laughs to poke through ...because it is JUST hair. It will grow back!
(Can you believe people choose to shave it off and wear it short all on their own accord?!?!?.I cringe EVERY time my son wants a buzz cut- we compromise - long on top) But when it’s taken from you, it’s shocking and a daily reminder. When your breasts are perky for the rest of your life because of your double mastectomy and ALL you want is saggy mis shaped boobs again.. I get it.
Your soul, your love, your happiness, your hope, your grace, your ability to FIGHT everyday… we see you.
To my kids and all of the children in the world -.
Your insides shine so bright. You were perfectly and wonderfully made. God wrapped you around his finger and placed you in my womb. You were made in HIS image just as he saw fit. Let those words sink in. You will never know anything but grace and hope and love from me.
To my mom.
You are perfectly and wonderfully made. God made you beautiful. I don’t think you heard that enough growing up. Hear it now. You are loved.
To everyone else…
Speak love. Think about the person sitting behind you in carline. Or at the airport. They have a story too. If you see two women walking, remember this story. Your words matter. The words you say to your children matter. The men and women they grow up to become start with us.
Who we are is much more than our outsides represent. We are leaders. We are wives. We are sisters. We are daughters. We are mothers. We are intelligent. We are funny. We love people. We are worthy of respect and kindness. We are brave AND courageous and strong. Stronger than you will ever know.
When you look… when you stare… when you wonder…
Spend five seconds searching into her eyes. You know, they are the windows to our souls. Look hard and in there you will find the important stuff..
By your side. I will always be.