I was just looking for concealer. I am a mom; under-eye circles are par for the course. Running low, I snuck away for a few coveted moments alone at the mercedes-benz of makeup counters, Sephora. A few minutes into my search and clearly in over my head, a woman with bright blue eyeliner, more than a few tattoos, and a purple flower in her hair approached and asked if I needed help finding a shade. “Am I that obvious?”, I asked with a smile.
A few minutes later, seated at the application area, wiping off my mascara and old makeup, we exchanged names and pleasantries, including the fact that she’d only recently moved here from California. Then Kelly told me her life story. I’m not joking. She told me about how she was strung out on drugs. About her four daughters, her one son, and her new grandchild. About how she cleaned up her life once, only to lose it all again when she lost her home and job in the recession. About how, through the grace of God, she clawed her way out of addiction again, and has been clean for a year.
She told me all of this while she patted concealer on my under-eye baggage, swiped pretty shadow on my eyelids, and laughed at me for tearing up when she came at me with the liner. She told me all of this matter-of-factly, as though it was no big deal.
She humbled me with her vulnerability. This woman didn’t know a thing about me, other than that I needed help concealing my imperfections. She helped me find it, but she did not conceal her own. She openly shared her struggle to break free of addiction with me. Who was I that she should open up to me so freely?
What Kelly couldn’t have known is how her story would touch me. You see, it’s my story too. I grew up the daughter of a drug addict. My father was always on the wagon, off the wagon, or some stage in between. I saw him for the last time when I was 12 and he finally chose his drugs over me.
How could this woman know, in laying herself bare, that she would touch a wounded place in my heart? She couldn’t, but God could. If He wanted to use her to touch my heart, perhaps He wanted me to do something as well? I took a chance. When she was all done with my makeup, I leaned in and said to her, “Kelly, I just want you to know that fighting to stay clean and overcome this addiction for your children, it is so important and it means so much. My father left me for his drugs, and I wished for so long that he would have fought for me. Keep fighting because it means so much to your children.”
Her eyes teared up, just a bit, and she said, “I needed encouragement today. Thank you so much.” Then she hugged me. As I walked to the bookstore to meet my husband, I kept thinking about the exchange that happened between us, two complete strangers, sharing such a deeply personal thing over concealer and lipgloss. The more I thought about it, the more beautifully and clearly feminine it became.
The exchange I had with Kelly while she did my makeup was a perfect example of the “feminine genius” which Blessed John Paul II spoke of so frequently. In the very essence of our being, we women have a capacity for recognizing the value of persons over things and the primacy of being and relationship over having and doing. Kelly opened her heart to me, because she, like all women, has a vulnerability that seeks out communion with others. Far from being the weakness that society claims, this vulnerability that seeks the other is one of our greatest strengths. The humility I felt that she should choose to share a piece of her great struggle, and my desire to share with her in return, was an apt response given the fact that I have a soul that is feminine to its core. I, like nearly all women, see the world primarily through relationships, even when we try to act otherwise.
This desire doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us stronger. It allows us as women to reach out to a suffering world and offer not a solution, but a shoulder. It allows us as women to seek not only God, but the image of Him that lives in each person we encounter, where ever that may be.