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What makes us beautiful?

The fact that art provides comfort and hope isn't often realized until it's happening, especially to someone lying in a hospital bed.

She wasn’t feeling very well. Her liver was getting bigger, and it was pressing on her other organs, making her very uncomfortable. So when I told her about my word project, she thought for a minute and decided it really wasn’t for her.

I asked how long she had been sick. She said her breast cancer had first shown up 15 years ago. She was sad to say it had just returned, and it was now in many other parts of her body, as well. She wasn’t afraid to die, and she sort of wished things would hurry up and be over.

Sometimes when I find out how sick people are, it stuns me that it doesn’t show on their faces. I told her I was very taken by how serenely beautiful she looked. She laughed and said, "now THAT’S a word I wouldn’t have come up with."

I took the bait and asked if she would let me make the word beautiful for her. She smiled and said that would be fine.

The next 30 minutes felt like sitting at an umbrella table overlooking the sea, sipping wine and talking to a friend. She was delightful. She forgot about her discomfort and shared many stories about her family.

Her husband had died over 20 years ago, and she had nothing but good memories of him. He was a jokester, she said, and they had had a wonderful marriage.

Her kids, grandkids and great grandkids all came to life for me as she described each one and twinkled with how much she loved them. As she talked, a nurse brought in a bouquet of roses her nephew had dropped off before she awakened earlier that morning.

She was clearly loved back.

As our time wound down, she told me she had been a member of her church for 77 years, starting at the age of 11. Her faith in the afterlife was as strong as about anyone I’ve ever met. I wondered if she had an image of heaven? No, she said that was something we just couldn’t know until we got there.

When I showed her my word art, she lit up the room with a kind of wisdom and warmth you don’t often encounter. She was truly the essence of beauty, and she accepted my view of her with grace and humility.

I wonder what it is that makes someone shine with that kind of beauty. Is it faith? Is it acceptance? Is it a spirit that doesn’t need to have everything figured out?

I know this. She will soon wash out to sea with the waves, blending and rolling with the cosmic motion of life. She will go willingly into the great unknown, just as I imagine she has lived every day of her life.

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