I glanced over at Ethan. Our two fingers joined together, tightly- his left, my right. John stood next to us, and like his son, was fixated on an old superhero movie playing on the television perched in the top corner of the wall. It was 11pm, too late for our son to be awake. But this was not a typical night. As Ethan lay next to me on the hospital bed waiting for the Emergency Room doctor to arrive, I reflected on the past 16 hours. The day had started out early. We were “up with the chickens,” as my Dad used to say. John, Charlie, Savanna and I practically stumbled out of bed, and rushed into our mini-van. “Finally, we get to pick up Ethan!” Charlie announced as we rolled out of our driveway to begin the journey to retrieve our son from sleep-away camp.
After almost three hours in the car, we arrived, and I quickly surveyed the cabins and playing fields, looking for our son. “Mom! Mom!” I heard Ethan shouting out to us, and then saw him walking across a grassy field, waving with his two fingers in the air. The smile on Ethan’s face was worth a thousand words. As we loaded up his things in our car, he rushed back to say good-bye to his fellow campers and counselors. To our delight, they were clearly as enamored with our son as he was with all of them. In that moment I knew I wouldn’t even have to ask Ethan later whether, in hindsight, he felt comfortable with so many new kids, despite his blatant physical difference. We loaded his belongings into the car and I stopped to gaze at our ten-year-old son, wearing a completely stained shirt and a grimy face. To me, Ethan never looked more beautiful.
Recently, I received a flattering invitation to be profiled by Today.com (http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/48421495/ns/today-style/). The purpose of the piece was for me to provide my insight into, “What Beauty Means to Me.” When I was interviewed several days later for the piece, I was directly asked, “What do you notice about beauty in others?” Well, as a self-proclaimed lover of fashion, I certainly could have taken the easy route and discussed material items that catch my attention. But there was more, and I suspected they knew that I would take this question to a deeper level. My answer was rooted in a recent exchange with a stranger. It all started with a comment to a blog I received the morning we were headed up to pick up Ethan.
I’m living in India. I’ve been following your blog ‘don’t hide it, flaunt it’ since the dawn of 2012. Your writings are highly motivational and inspiring.
I’m also a different person in the sense that I have no children (which is considered not only as a disability but also a sin in our society.) After a lot of waiting and disappointments we have decided to adopt (which is another sin according to the standards of our society. But I have got a wonderful husband who has been instrumental in taking the decision. My husband and myself have to prepare ourselves for a great ordeal awaiting us when we get the child. ) It was in this context that I came across your blog (rather accidentally. I’m interested health topics and usually spend a lot of time in medical sites. When I was searching in google for ectrodactyly, I found your photos. Your children are really so cute that I forgot my search and entered your blog. Ethan and Charlie are soooooooooooo loveable, cute and smart. You are really fortunate to be blessed with such lovely children.)
After that I started reading your posts now and then. I was extremely surprised that you have an adopted child also–Savanna. Then I became more personally involved in your writings. Your posts surprised me at first because I was of the opinion that in your country, people are decent enough to be indifferent about differences. But , it is a blessing in a way because we would not have got “‘don’t hide it, flaunt it” if you had not faced those stares or questions.
After reading your blog posts there is a lot of change in me. I have begun to accept the fact that I haven’t got a child. Though I have received a lot of spiritual education from my childhood I could not accept the fact till recently. Now I can face any question with courage. I can say ‘No, I Don’t have a child’ with the least pain. I think this is very important to adjust myself to the problems which are awaiting us in the next stage of the issue, that is bringing up an adopted child. I’m sharing your ideas with my husband and he is also inspired to know about your blog. Now we hope we can face any silly question about that new addition into our family, apart from making him/ her accepting the fact, (as you have written in your post ‘It is all in the genes ‘) giving him/ her the most comfortable atmosphere and the best possible parentage by God’s grace.
I think I have found a sisterly counselor in you for any doubts or questions regarding acceptance of difference. Pardon me for being lengthy (since it is the first letter ) and also for my English. (I’m not sure if it is up to your standards since I have studied it as a second language only.)
With love, Vidya
Reading Vidya’s note, I was both humbled and overjoyed. Humbled by her gracious words about my blog and my family, but overjoyed that my “Don’t Hide It Flaunt It” site had become a tool for people, no matter the challenge. As much as I love all of you finger and limb-challenged people out there, this message from Vidya felt like pure, “mission accomplished” to me. It radiated what I believe to be beauty in its purest form: When a person is inspired to be courageous, despite the often stinging judgment from others, even from those that we care about and care for us. Vidya has been able to embrace who she is, and accept herself, despite her difference. While I have never met her, and she lives across the globe from me, I am completely overcome by her beauty.
“Excuse me,” the attending physician called for me and John to come outside the hospital room. At that point, we had been waiting at the hospital for over an hour. After we had gotten home from camp later that day, the kids went to ride their bikes. A sharp, metal object sticking out of a bush had gashed into Ethan as he rode past it, right above the ankle. “The cut on your son’s leg –it is quite deep. We want it to heal so his leg can once again look perfect. I don’t really have the skill for this. I hope you don’t mind, but I called in an excellent plastic surgeon to handle this for you.” The irony in her comment did not escape me, given that with his socks off, Ethan’s foot had never been described to us as perfect. When the plastic surgeon arrived, we were thankful to find he was not only skilled, but also charming. “Let’s make sure to do this right, since crutches will bring too much attention!” he said with a wink.
During the hour-long procedure, we chatted with the surgeon about everything, including the subject matter of my site. During a particularly long stretch, I even read Vidya’s letter to him (not kidding). He was genuinely interested and then confided to us that when he got this call, he was told by the doctor it was especially important that the family had a good cosmetic result. We all chuckled at the thought that someone would think a scar would be a problem for us. But it reminded us that beauty obviously means different things to different people.