This time it’s not because I’m holding a woman’s hand. Or because a barber has cut my hair. Or because I bought my clothes in the men’s section of the thrift store. It’s not because I’m covered in tattoos I got with ex girlfriends, or because I’m wearing a shirt that says ‘R.I.P Patriarchy’, or because I’m holding the leashes of four dogs––outing me as a childless homosexual. This time it’s because I’m bald. Bald on the face even. Eyelash-less. Meaning, I look like I’m entirely out of wishes.
“Excuse me,” the woman says, “I’m getting the strong sense that I should pray for you. Would that be okay? I’ve offended people before...”
My partner Meg and I are on a walking trail near our home. We both stop to look this stranger in the eye. I know why people would be offended by her offer, know the ten thousand reasons one might be inclined to reem this woman all the way out. Meg, my beautiful bodyguard, is ready to pounce. She knows how hard it is for me to talk on the days following chemo. Knows I’ve struggled to not get anxious when stopped by strangers who want to comment on my health. But most of all, she knows how badly I don’t want to look sick. Watches how hard I try not to.
Before we left home, Meg lifted my chin into her palm and applied her own blush and bronzer to my face. After, she added color to my lips with a tinted lip balm she assured me was absolutely not lipstick. I covered my bald head with my favorite hat and walked out the door, certain my efforts would work. Certain the makeup would scream––I, Andrea Gibson, will never ever ever die. But the cross-wearing stranger in front of me isn’t hearing it.
What I know is I could stop the conversation in two seconds if I wanted to. I’d only have to walk away. But something is keeping me still. I instinctively trust her. I’m trying to figure out why. For a moment I think it’s because she’s the doppelgänger of the coach’s wife in Friday Night Lights––a breath of fresh air for the eyes. But it’s not that. It’s that her voice is shaking. It’s that I can tell this isn’t easy for her. She’s done it before and it’s gone bad. Very bad. Each bead of sweat on her brow is a time someone yelled, “Get the hell away from me!” I haven’t an ounce of judgement for anyone who would defend their privacy in that way. But my own defenses are nowhere to be found. It’s clear she’s not here to condemn or convert me. She simply believes in the power of her prayer. Believes it could very well be the thing that saves my life, and so she’s not gonna not offer it, even if the offering gets her booed all the way back to her car.
“I’ll take the prayer,” I say. “Give me what you’ve got.” The woman’s exhale of relief could lift a flock of doves to the moon. “Dear Lord Jesus,” she begins, “please bring healing to your beautiful daughter...”
The prayer is a playground of microaggressions that on another day might have me climbing atop my soap box to tear down every steeple that ever pointed to the holiest parts of me and called them a sin. But I keep scanning my body and nothing is landing on me in a way that hurts. I could try to be offended, but it wouldn’t be honest.
What’s honest is right now it means something to me that this woman cares. Her kindness is a risk she’s taking on my behalf. And I love her for it. Even as I’m thinking, “Is it wrong to love this woman for this?” I’m loving her for it. Even as I’m contemplating the twenty page think-piece I could write about why no one should ever do this, I’m loving her for it.
She prays aloud, and each word is a gift I hold up to the light to see if it fits. Some don’t, but many do. She says “Amen” and her hands are still shaking. When we wave goodbye Meg doesn’t ask if I’m OK. She can tell by looking at me that I am.
Who cares if the color in my face was bought at a store. I am blushing with love for this world, blushing for the many unexpected ways we see each other through.
Love, Andrea 🖤
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