I stumbled upon these words at the University of Arizona on Sept. 22, 2011. I found them on Highland Avenue, painted on the brick facade of the Koffler building. There they were, waiting for someone to see them, to read them, to believe them.
I took out my camera, knowing that I’d happened upon something special. For several days afterwards, I kept my eye out for these words and looked for them where ever I went on campus. I never saw them again, that is, not until yesterday.
I’d stopped looking for them long ago, and yet, here they were, sneaking up on me when I least expected them. Finding me when I needed them. You see, about 45 minutes after I took this photo, I walked into a hair salon and told the hairstylist that I wanted to cut my hair. Short. For me, those were bold words. In my mind, my long, golden waves have always been attached to my femininity and my self-image. Chopping them all off meant severing that tie.
But I did it! And I couldn’t be happier with the decision. I feel lighter, buoyant. I feel brighter. I feel new.
I also feel like I toppled straight out of The Great Gatsby…
Cutting my hair has reminded me that beauty lies beyond outward appearance. It can be seen in smiling eyes. It can be heard in loving words. When jasmine tickles my nose and takes me back to my grandmother’s garden, I find beauty in childhood memories. When I hold my little sister and feel her warm body against mine, I find beauty in our sisterhood. When I wake up in the morning to the sound of singing birds and the aspirated sighs of wind, I find beauty in the music of the natural world. Beauty, as I was reminded this week, is everywhere, and I am blessed to have so much of it in my life. In the people I know and love. In the world I live in.
We don’t distinguish between external beauty and internal beauty in English. But in other languages, there are words to separate the two. One of my favorite distinctions comes from Swahili, in which beauty can be identified as zuri or ema. As I understand it, zuri refers to the physical, the tangible and the polite. If someone asks me how I’m doing, I may respond using zuri. However, if I want to talk about something in the soul, something deeper, I use ema. Ema, internal beauty, defies what resides on the surface. Ema lies in the little things; the little things that have big, meaningful consequences.
Yesterday, I found ema on the steps of the Integrated Learning Center at the University of Arizona, and I took it into the barbor’s chair where I snipped away at a binding, personal norm, liberating something inside of me. And today, I carry it still.
May something beautiful find you this week.
Smiles and all the best,