The other day I took a long look in the mirror and realized I only have one eyelash on my left eye. Like a horn protruding out of the middle of my eyelid, lone and unapologetic, proud to have survived six rounds of chemotherapy intact.
I have six or seven eyelashes on my right eye.
When I first started chemo I was prepared to lose the hair on my head. The thought of losing my eyelashes and eyebrows hadn’t occurred to me, and I have to admit that I was kind of rattled by that. All of my friends who had been through chemo lost theirs, so I was bracing myself for the day I would have no eyebrows and eyelashes.
But it never came.
It’s been nearly eight weeks since my last chemo infusion and I still have that one faithful lash hanging on for dear life! No matter how much I may want to rub my eyes, especially when I’m tired at night, or first thing in the morning, I don’t touch it.
And I never lost my eyebrows.
Of course, I had a lot of brow to begin with, so no matter how much I lost, it makes sense that there would still be a patch. I was so glad. Because I have my mother’s eyelashes and eyebrows. That was something that connected me to her, reminding me that I look like her. I had to look in the mirror early on and tell myself that even if I lost those features, nothing could change those dark brown eyes that looked like hers, too. But even if it did, there was something deeper that connected me to her. Something far more important than my physical features.
My mama taught me that what I looked like on the inside was always more important than what I looked like on the outside.
It’s ironic to me how at the same time she also taught me to take pride in my appearance and to consider the appropriateness of my attire, depending on the occasion. I learned to ask what “the dress” was when I was invited to events. I was taught what to wear for every kind of gathering.
When I was little – when it was fashionable in the 1960s for women to still wear gloves – I had my own little pair of gloves for church on Sunday morning. Along with a purse and patent leather shoes.
But I also wore things that were different. Things that no other girls were wearing. Like the shorts I spotted the day we were passing through the boys’ department on our way into McClurkans’ department store. The fabric was designed to look like Andy Warhol’s famous tomato soup can painting. Solid tomato soup cans all over those Bermuda shorts for boys.
I loved them. And my mom let me get them.
And when I was in the seventh grade she let me cut my long hair into a pixie cut.
In the eighth grade she bought me a pair of jeans from the Army/Navy surplus store because those were the jeans that everyone at school was wearing.
I got Wafflestomper boots that year also, because all the kids had them. They cost so much that I had to wear them all summer, too, to justify spending that much on a pair of shoes.
When overalls – yes, farmers’ overalls that men wore to milk cows and bale hay on their farms – became popular for girls to wear when I was in high school, I had a pair of those, too. She even let me wear them to church on Sunday and Wednesday nights.
And when I wanted to wear a bow tie with those overalls to school on a “tie up the whatever-team-we-were-playing-that-week” day during high school, Mama tied it for me.
My mom didn’t particularly relish all of my choices in my wardrobe. But she was very wise in picking her battles. She cared more about the inside. And she knew if she made a big deal about the clothes I wore, her inconsistency would undo the emphasis she had placed on character being more important.
So as long as what I wore was modest, she let me wear what I wanted. To fit in with my peers when I needed to, in ways that were appropriate. Because she wanted to teach me to be different in the ways that really mattered.
I don’t know anything more important to teach both little girls and little boys, that what they look like on the outside will never matter as much as who they are on the inside.
Because the outside will fade. Always.
But the inside will hang on forever. Resilient to chemo or age or anything else that seeks to change the face looking back at us in the mirror.
Kinda like that one eyelash.