True Beauty This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 10, 2012
True beauty is not high cheekbones, long legs or bulging biceps. You can only find true beauty if you look with an open mind and heart. You don’t see it often, and usually only for a split second, but it’s always there, just out of sight. I’ve only seen true beauty once.

My grandfather had been ill and was in the hospital for a relatively simple operation, but there were complications. Pappy had a very weak heart (his first heart attack occurred before I was even born), but he was tough and outlived most of his brothers. He also had kidney problems; one doctor wanted to put him on dialysis but the heart specialist argued Pappy’s heart couldn’t handle the stress. He was being poisoned by his own body, as the doctors fought over what to do. He would seem to improve but then, inexplicably, get worse.

By this point I considered the hospital staff incompetent, and it didn’t help when my father and I had to run to the nurses’ station because they wouldn’t answer the emergency call button. Pappy was having chest pains, and we were afraid of what we might find when we returned from the station ten minutes later. No one was in any hurry to help him. When the doctor finally decided to show up he said, “Well, Mr. Brewer, you could have just had another heart attack, or it could be some congestion in your lungs.” Hmm, which could it be – a cold that developed in 30 seconds or a heart attack? Given Pappy’s medical history, I would have appreciated it if the doctor had run some tests. Over the next three weeks, Pappy was moved in and out of the Intensive Care Unit several times.

Through this, my grandmother was with him every day, going home only for clean clothes and showers, and sleeping at a nearby hospitality house. She was exhausted but didn’t want to leave Pappy, even though he had people with him at all times. MawMaw felt Pappy needed her near while he was ill, and I think she needed to be near him, too. After 56 years of marriage, you get kind of attached.

The doctors did nothing to relieve her anxiety. Honestly, I don’t believe the specialists talked to each other to decide what to tell us. They kept relaying different stories – the lung specialist told us Pappy would die because he wouldn’t be able to breathe; a few minutes later, the heart specialist told us he had held Pappy’s hand, and that Pappy was as strong as a horse and would be fine. I believed him. I knew everything Pappy had been through and I wanted him to be all right, so I believed that doctor.

Imagine a large group of children, grandchildren, siblings and friends who haven’t slept for an extended period of time. We were all stressed out and none of us looked too hot. I glanced across the waiting room and saw my grandmother. I don’t know what it was, but she looked so beautiful. Telling my mother to look at her, I asked, “Isn’t she pretty?” My mother looked at me like I was crazy. “Sure, baby,” she agreed. My mother obviously didn’t see what I saw. Maw-Maw was kind of glowing, and there was a warmth around her. I know it sounds corny, but she looked strong, determined and incredibly loving. Ten minutes ago she was just MawMaw, with gray hair, wrinkles and rumpled clothes. Now she was vibrant. Her hair was a beautiful silver and her wrinkles were laugh lines. Maybe the hospital’s smell of death had gone to my head, but I realized it wasn’t her physical aspects that suddenly made her so beautiful, it was the love coming from her – love for her children, grandchildren, friends and, most of all, her love for Pappy. Her beauty was in her emotions, her attitude toward people and life, and I saw all this in an instant. I understood the image I saw was inside her and I was getting a peek of it from the outside. I kept staring at her, afraid I would lose my new perception if I looked away. I was afraid something would blind me to that beauty, take away my insight. I was afraid.

The next day when my grandmother went home to shower, Pappy died. They were so close, she knew before she got back to his room. She just kept walking toward the doctor and my parents, but by the time she got to them she was crying, almost uncontrollably. I watched her and all that beauty turned to hurt and anger and upset. I lost my vision. That’s why physical beauty now seems so trivial to me. I’ve seen true beauty – it’s love.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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