All I Can See

When the women at the Lighthouse began painting their masks Lisa began with a flurry. Not her accustomed process. She covered the surface of her molded paper mask with countless layers of “S”s in multiple colors until it was completely covered. Layer upon layer, color upon color. Her final touch was a large S-shaped silver scar on her cheek.

The significance of each woman’s mask was tender and powerful as usual. But when it came Lisa’s turn I was moved by the honesty of her sharing. She has recently had a substantial skin cancer removed from her left jaw line. A sizable S-shaped scar remains. For those of us who see her on a regular basis, we see the scar not as disfiguring, but fading week by week. But Lisa sees something else.

She shared with us, “You all say that it’s not that noticeable, but it’s all I can see. That’s why I painted a big scar on that side of my mask because that’s all I see when I look in the mirror. It’s this huge reminder of all the surgeries and physical problems I’ve had to deal with since I’ve been here.” Wow! Was I ever convicted. Hoping to comfort and encourage Lisa, I had insensitively minimized her grief over the loss of yet another part of her physical integrity.

I could relate. Not because of illness or surgery. But because of aging. I picked up the conversation when Lisa finished. “Oh, Lisa. What a great teaching moment you’ve offered! I can totally relate. The person I see in the mirror at times bears no resemblance to the image I have of myself in my mind’s eye.  When I look in the mirror I can be both content and grieved all in the same moment. But sometimes all I can see is my grief. I think, to some degree, all of us deal with those kinds of complicated feelings all the time as we face issues of image, illness and aging.” Nodding heads around the room. Murmurs of agreement. “Lisa, we have rushed to comfort you rather than companion you while you grieved this loss of physical integrity. One day you’ll look in the mirror and that scar won’t be all you see. But today is not that day, nor perhaps for many days to come.” Lisa’s honesty has helped me be more honest about the physical losses I encounter on an increasingly regular basis. Paradoxically, as I tend those moments of grief, it turns to contentment. All I can see is not all there is.

What kind of complicated feelings do you have when you look in the mirror? How would you answer “all I can see is…”? What kind of a scar, physical or emotional, would you like to grieve and make peace with? If you were to create a mask or an art piece that incorporated your scar, what would it look like?

Enjoy the masks created by the other women at the Lighthouse, a faith-based residential substance abuse treatment program. They represent the dark and light aspects of their lives as they make peace with the grief of their lives.



8 comments to All I Can See

  • Deanna J Bowling

    We who come from my mother’s blood line, actually from beyond my mom to my Great Grandmother’s blood line, tend towards having “old eyes”. Our eyes look old and worn out as we get older, no matter how we may feel at any given time.

    I used to feel bad for men because they only had what they woke up to, to deal with, what with not wearing makeup, etc. Then I became allergic to all makeup’s be they hypoallergenic or not. I’ve rubbed off half of my eyebrows due to rubbing my head when I had so many migraines. And the list goes on.

    The joys ?! of walking through life <:).

  • Karinski

    I have two visions. In my mind I am still the young, skinny, perfect bodied twenty something. When I look in the mirror I see the ravages that cancer has left. It never ceases to amaze me that I am continually startled when I look in the mirror!

  • Kris Mouton

    The masks are absolutely beautiful!

    “All that I can see is” … what never has been.
    In the midst of those thoughts of what never has been comes this – “you’re not finished creating”.
    Change is good.

    Thanks be to God.

  • A funny thing happened to me on the way to surgery! I’ve always been told that I look younger than I am. At 18, I looked 12, which I hated, and people told me one day I would appreciate that. Well, I do, but I found I came to expect to not age, which is ridiculous. I have wrinkles, saggy skin, thinning lips which I less than love when I look in the mirror.
    Then, a few days ago, July 1, I had a thyroidectomy which, of course, leaves a nice scar between your collar bones for everyone to see. But, I found I no longer care if I ‘look younger than my age’ or am told that I do. I am who I am, not what age I look like. I like who I am becoming with God as my guide. So, I know one day I will look in the mirror and not see the scar so noticeably. (The bandage and scar took away from the obviousness of the wrinkles! LOL) I didn’t even realize I didn’t care until I read this post, Lynne. I am glad to be alive, and wait for pathology results that we expect to say ‘no cancer.’

  • Joyce Lombard

    Love to see the masks, Lynne. Joyce

  • cynthia thomas

    for many years after my stroke, all i could see was the flopping left arm that no longer helped me, a huge brace on my left leg (that really isn’t huge) & my tilted head. for about 5 years, i only wore pants to hide the leg brace. i found no way to hide my arm or tilting head. i’m not sure what changed but today i see the whole cynthia rather than only the defective parts of myself. probably the many years of self exploration & therapy changed my self image.

    today when i look at my life, i only see that i’m living in a retirement home with people 20 plus years older than me. i’ve been doing lots of self talk & writing about the more positive aspects of my living arrangement. it’s helping improve my attitude but the progress is slow. cynthia

  • Linda Young

    When I look in the mirror I’m always surprised by my eyes. I see grief,great sadness, the toll the years have taken on my soul. Sometimes I try to look into my eyes for a minute, but usually I look away quickly. They seem to give it all away. They seem to truely be the windows to my soul. When I comunicate with people who care about me I find myself looking away so that they won’t see everything, as though I need to protect myself and them from the broken heart that resides in me.

  • Deanna J Bowling

    I should have waited to post my thoughts until today instead of early yesterday, but then I didn’t know what yesterday was going to hold.

    I had a teacher in think in High School, who in giving us an assignment, told us that the best way to learn something is to teach it. Then he gave several of us the assignment of teaching the class for a day, probably less. It was a really enlightening experience.

    In some encounters yesterday, while attempting to assist in planning worship services at my church, I learned just how narrowly and shallowly I think, I worship. It is one thing to sit and talk about it, to “know” scripture, to “know” how to plan something, it is an entirely different thing to live it out.

    I think the mask I wear is of someone who is “doing” life sometimes well. If I took the mask off and let reality tell the truth, I am still in many ways the paraplegic sitting on my mat in many ways.

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