Part of my end-of-the-year routine means going through the notebooks I’ve accumulated over the past twelve months. I pour over scribbles and jottings, making sure I’ve left nothing of value behind. Often, I find I haven’t. But just now I’ve come across something I’d completely forgotten. Written diagonally across the top of a page were six words, each letter capitalized to express their importance:
CAREER DAY—I MAKE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE
It was back last spring. Career Day at the local elementary school, and an acquaintance called to ask if I could come and talk about writing books. I told her writing books was not my full time profession yet. She told me when you’re dealing with a classroom of ten-year-olds, such petty distinctions don’t matter.
I went, though admittedly in a selfish kind of way. I didn’t care so much to talk about what I did nearly as much as I wanted to hear about what everyone else did. I wasn’t disappointed. That day I met firemen and police officers and truck drivers, a lady who worked on airplanes and a guy who made dentures. It was fascinating, all of it, and all of it taught me something, too—when pressed, we can all make what we do sound like the coolest thing in the world.
But it was the plastic surgeon that I remember most. Not so much for his appearance (which, fittingly enough, looked as plastic as his creations) or his demeanor (many of us consciously skipped over the tedious parts of our jobs, but I got the feeling the good doctor sincerely thought his didn’t have any). No, it was what he said that struck me then. It’s what strikes me still.
“I make beautiful people. Beautiful people don’t just happen.”
There was a short time for questions when he finished. Only one student raised a hand, a boy in the back corner who wanted to know how much it would cost for the doctor to turn him into Iron Man. The doctor laughed and did not answer. I thought it was the best question of the day.
I wanted to raise my hand and almost did. Got it as far as my shoulder before I put it back into my pocket. It was question time, not argument time. What I was thinking wasn’t a question.
Because that doctor didn’t say, “I make people beautiful.” If he had, maybe I would’ve let the whole thing go. Maybe I would’ve never made that little scribble in my notebook, and maybe I wouldn’t be writing this post. Beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder. But he didn’t. He said, “I make beautiful people,” and that tiny change, that minuscule switching of those last two words, made all the difference.
Making people beautiful and making beautiful people are in no way the same. One is outward; shallow. It reaches no deeper than the last layer of skin. But the other? It permeates. It covers every cell. To me, the latter is much more valuable.
And the great secret is this: It’s often the beautiful people who don’t look so beautiful at all. They have wrinkles and graying hair from worrying over their kids. They have a swollen belly from too many meals with family and friends. Their eyes are droopy and their hands are rough and calloused from work. They don’t have time to make themselves look pretty. They know the value of a person lies more in the size of their heart than the size of their breasts. It the amount of compassion that matters, not the amount of hair.
That doctor was right about one thing, though. Beautiful people don’t just happen. It takes a lifetime of walking through this world, of enduring. It’s falling down and getting up and falling down again. It’s the courage to try and love and hope when you’re surrounded by failure and hate and doubt. It means getting scars that may fade but will never go away.
Give me that beauty. Because what the good doctor promises is a pretty that will end in the grave. But that other beauty, the real beauty? It will follow us from this world to the next.