I gaze at my reflection in the mirror. I wonder who I am, if I am worthy. I wonder what other people think of me.
I was probably a preteen when I remember first staring at myself long and hard. I was riding down the highway with my older brother, peering into the car’s mirror. I remember thinking that I had soft, feminine features. I didn’t look like a man. Of course, I was not a man, not like my brother was, but I felt that I should have looked more masculine. My pudgy, round face and red cheeks were completely opposite of how I wanted to look. My narrow, pink lips and long eyelashes (the ones my mother had always made such a fuss over – “Look how LONG they are!”) certainly did not help my cause. In fact, after I had stared at my face for quite awhile, feature by feature, my visage sort of morphed into that of a girl. My mind asked, What if I was a girl? This face would be OK if I was. I would make a better girl than boy.
And no, I am not transgender – never have been, never will be. It just seemed at this time that my face was not suited to sitting on a boy’s body. The rest of me was very boyish. I was husky (fat if you will), with broad shoulders and strong arms. It was my soft, fragile face that belied me.
Even today, if I pause long enough to study my features in the mirror, my face doesn’t look strong. I still have a chubby face and rosy red cheeks, only now I have crow’s feet, bags under my eyes, and graying sideburns to go along with them.
I suppose everyone says it at one time or another, but this face has seen a lot. For 43 years it has presented me to the world, everyone who I have come in contact with. It’s been with me through all the bad days, as well as the few good ones.
I have a small scar right beside my right eye. When I was about four, I was running in the back of my father’s drugstore, where all the medicine bottles were kept on tall metal shelves. I tripped and smacked my face right into one of the shelves. I cried, man oh man did I cry. They were huge, soppy tears that went on for a good while. I don’t remember anything about the incident after that, but I must have gone to the town doctor to get stitches. At any rate, the scar is not something I ever thought about growing up – it was just part of me, not something to be embarrassed about. Later, in my teenage years, someone asked me about it, and I told them the story of how it happened. Then I realized that the scar kind of made me bad, the good kind of bad. I had a war wound in a visible place, almost like a tattoo must make you feel when you show it off for the first time.
I have another small scar below my lower lip. I have no idea how I got it. I don’t remember getting it – I just remember one day looking in the mirror and there it was. How could I never have noticed it before? I do not know.
My nose is crooked. I noticed for the first time in high school. My girlfriend’s friend was looking straight on at me in class one day when she remarked, “Your nose is crooked.” I went home and looked in the mirror later, and agreed, that yes, it is indeed crooked, pointing slightly to my left. It’s not extremely noticeable, but easily spotted once you’re looking for it. Once again, I don’t know if it has always been like that, or if some long-forgotten face smash left me that way. To this day, my wife swears that she broke my nose when we were wrestling one night, and that it has been crooked ever since. Yes, her foot whacked me soundly right on the side of my snout, causing a loud “pop”, but my nose was crooked long before that night.
I have a unibrow. It first became prevalent when I hit puberty. My father used to say that it made me look mean, like a bulldog I’m guessing. He meant it in a kidding sort of way. As I went through high school and on into college, I became more self-conscious of it. The thought of shaving it never really entered my mind. That was just something you didn’t do. If you had a unibrow, then you had a unibrow. Finally, in my senior year of college, as I was making arrangements to attend seminary (which I never did do), I shaved it right before heading to the seminary for a get-acquainted weekend. I wanted the people there to think I was a happy, light-hearted person, and I thought that shaving it would help lessen the impact of my thick eyebrows and my eyes, which I thought sat too far back in my head. I don’t know if it worked or not.
My left earlobe is bigger, redder, and puffier than my right one. I first noticed this about 16 years ago. I was looking in the mirror and as I was studying the symmetry of my face, I noticed that there was no symmetry in my ear lobes. Somehow, without my knowledge, the left one had developed a noticeable droop and was puffier than the other one, like some sort of amorphous blob.
I may have other notable facial characteristics, or perhaps they are already there and I haven’t noticed them yet. At any rate, my face, as with all faces, has evolved into something more than what it once was.
When we’re children, our faces are bright and smooth, without the cares of the world chiseled into them. As we go through life, our faces grow and change along with our minds and the rest of our bodies. They become layered with age; we have wrinkles, moles, freckles, scars, and sun damage that all add to the painting that is our face.
A great artist begins his portrait with a one dimensional drawing of a face, then one by one paints in the features that make the individual unique. The experience of life does that same thing to our faces. They have much more and are much more in our later years than we can ever imagine as a child. It is fascinating to me to look at an adult’s childhood picture, with its young, clean face, and see how time and genetics have layered on the characteristics that slowly transform a girl into a woman and a boy into a man.
Who knows what my face will look like in 20 or 30 years? It will still be me, only with more stuff added on. Just as my face right now is the most complex it has ever been, my face then will be an even more complex masterpiece, slowly created through the process we call living.