Tuesday, April 27, 2010

TIll We Have Faces

I have this friend. We’ve known each other for over thirty years. We don’t see each other often, but when we do we don’t have to reacquaint or search for topics of conversation. We tease and laugh and remember easily.

At least we used to. About five or six years ago my friend made some changes in her life, changes that she assumed I would find difficult to accept. I found out about those changes from someone else and so our encounters, always brief, became stiff and contrived.

A few days ago we ran into each other at one of those events where every moment is meant to be celebratory and no one is allowed discomfort of any kind. One of those events where putting on a happy face is practically the cost of admission.

Looking at her face across the room, seeing a teenager and not a middle-aged woman, I made a decision. The two of us would not go home pretending.

She was surprised, a few hours later, when I took her by the arm and pulled her away from the group with whom we’d been chatting. In the quiet of an empty hallway, having decided that subtlety would be irresponsible, I looked her in the eye and said, "Love is unconditional or it is nothing at all."

My friend, once an awkward girl and, at this moment, an equally awkward woman, blinked her eyes and asked, "Does this mean I can stop hiding from you?"

Ah, yes. Hiding. It is what we do when fear besieges the fortresses of our hearts. It is what we do when the facade of competence and self-sufficiency begins to crumble. It is what we do when doubting truth seems easier than facing it.

In the trek from forest to farm to city, we humans never lost the instinct for camouflage. We are born with a bent toward blending in. We wear uniforms and make-up. We join clubs and wave flags. And we do it because the world is a dangerous place.

Or so we pretend.

The reality is that that from which we are hiding is rarely evil or life-threatening. The reality is that that from which we are hiding is nothing more than the conviction that we are not worthy, that our value is insignificant, that we can not measure up. And whether the disguise is a fig leaf or a forced smile, it is never enough to hide our nakedness.

C. S. Lewis’s last published book, Till We Have Faces, a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche, is the story of two sisters – one beautiful, one hideously ugly. Living behind a veil so that her ugliness cannot be seen by the people she rules, Orual must eventually face the gods and their charges against her. And she must do it without the veil.

Orual says, "When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years ... you’ll not talk about the joy of words. ... Till that word can be dug out of us, why should [the gods] hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?"

And, so, finally mustering the courage to reveal herself, what the gods see is the beautiful face of her sister."Does this mean I can stop hiding from you?"I wish I’d had time to prepare an answer. I wish I’d had some instant flash of insight. I wish I’d been quick enough, then, to say something about camouflage and fig leaves.

Instead, I looked my friend straight in the eyes and said only, "I love you."

We embraced and she walked away."

Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds," William Shakespeare wrote. Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes.

Copyright 2010

No comments: