Unselfing

Beauty, (Iris) Murdoch argues, gave us an opportunity for an “unselfing.” She writes:

I am looking out my window in an anxious and resentful state of mind, oblivious of my surroundings, brooding perhaps on some damage done to my prestige. Then suddenly I observe a hovering kestrel. In a moment everything is altered. The brooding self with its hurt vanity has disappeared. There is nothing now but kestrel. And when I return to thinking of the other matter it seems less important.

Chloé Cooper Jones, Easy Beauty: A Memoir (Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster, April 5, 2022)


Notes:

  • Kestrel. Cardinal. Same. Shot taken of Red Cardinal overhead this morning @ 8 am in backyard.
  • Photos from Daybreak walk this morning here.

Grace eludes you

I leave the restaurant after the sun has set. Rome is dark. I’m tired and need the shortest route to my hotel so I cut down a dim alley. The road turns rough. I trip along the way. I keep my head down, eyes squinting at my path, and so I don’t see the men first but hear them. They’re laughing. I move to one side of the alley and they move to the same side. I step the other way and so do they. There are four of them. I hear one speaking to me, but I don’t know what he is saying.

Their interest in me, their sound, turns me stony. I open my mouth and out comes not words, but strained guttural notes.

One man jogs past to stand behind me. Another puts his hand on my shoulder and backs me up, toward the wall, toward his friend. His friend is tall. They want to take my picture standing next to him. I’m short, a dwarf, which is funny, hysterical. I’m not real. Just a strange thing in the alley. The flash of their camera. I freeze. Then I’m back in the dark.

When I was a teenager, a man once watched me going up some stairs and he said, “Grace eludes you.” I seemed to be struggling, which struck him, I suppose, as ugly.

Does this man remember what he said to me? Does he return to the memory each time he sees stairs?

I still — two decades after this man watched me walk up the stairs — step aside to tie my shoe to allow people to go ahead of me. I fake phone calls so that others will walk up without me. I pretend to wait for someone who isn’t coming. I bide my time, clinging to my weak ruse of self protection, until no one is looking. I do not climb stairs until I can do so unobserved. I’ve never stopped preparing for the next person who will see me walk and deny me grace.

The way words stay, the way sentences stay, the way memories invade my present, the way a stranger looks at me and speaks: shards that become a mirror.

In Rome, men block my path. They are drunk. The tall one wants to leave, done with this picture project. Another man drops his phone. His friends laugh at his clumsiness. One taps the other’s chest and just like that they’re distracted by a new plan, a diverting interest, and they leave me without further incident and carry on with their night, never to think of this moment again.

Chloé Cooper Jones, Easy Beauty: A Memoir (Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster, April 5, 2022)

“I am in a bar in Brooklyn, listening to two men, my friends, discuss whether my life is worth living.”

So begins Chloé Cooper Jones’s bold, revealing account of moving through the world in a body that looks different than most. Jones learned early on to factor “pain calculations” into every plan, every situation. Born with a rare congenital condition called sacral agenesis which affects both her stature and gait, her pain is physical. But there is also the pain of being judged and pitied for her appearance, of being dismissed as “less than.” The way she has been seen—or not seen—has informed her lens on the world her entire life. She resisted this reality by excelling academically and retreating to “the neutral room in her mind” until it passed. But after unexpectedly becoming a mother (in violation of unspoken social taboos about the disabled body), something in her shifts, and Jones sets off on a journey across the globe, reclaiming the spaces she’d been denied, and denied herself.

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