“Ugliness in nature can in art become full of great beauty. In art, only that which has character is beautiful. Character is the essential truth of any natural object.” – Auguste Rodin
I love this place. Hopes, dreams, struggles and sorrows, strewn about the walls telling stories of forever.The McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas is one of my very most favorite places in the whole wide world. Being my hometown, I have much history inside these walls. I share knowing glances with my favorite paintings, remembering each time before and what my heart carried. This most recent spring housed a stunning exhibit of French Moderns imported from the Brooklyn Museum in New York. I languidly browsed Gauguin, Cassatt, Degas, and Matisse, impressed by their offerings of humanity. My daughter loves Cassatt because she draws mothers taking care of their babies and doing their hair in the morning. This gives me joy.
I wandered into the next portion of the exhibit, a few sculptures and castings of bronze. Wanting to hurry toward the Monet mural presiding over the exhibit on the back wall, I almost missed her. All at once, I stopped. A hushed holiness then followed each footstep towards a Rodin masterpiece titled “She Who Was the Helmet-Maker’s Once Beautiful Wife.” She beckoned me closer, wrecking me with her withering frame.
I knew that downcast gaze, eyes giving up in exhaustion and shame, trying to hide but also too tired to care who sees. I feel that way when I show up at the grocery store with greasy hair, stained clothes, and hairy legs, bags under my eyes so dark you’d think I hadn’t slept in years. I so desperately want my worth to be acknowledged beyond the shorts my postpartum thighs are trying to wear. I want the painful seconds of my days to communicate their worth to everyone around me. I want the sacrifice of my youth to carry eternal impact on this side of Heaven, storming the marketplace with pride and aplomb.
I stared at her, mesmerized by her hideous beauty; at all the sun and wind, toil and sacrifice, years her body had endured.
Women give the best of themselves to others, their bodies temples of life and sometimes death. Men love there, finding their courage. Children feed there, finding their strength, leaving behind ruins of the civilizations they once were in their mother’s womb. On and on and on, until one day all that’s left are wrinkles, stretch marks, bruises, scars, flab, and weary smiles; old souls timidly looking to be reborn and seen. Although my skin is far from flaccid, and I have just begun to grey, I saw myself in her.
I could not leave this woman. She needed me. Not my compassion. Not my pity. Just me.
Companionship, that excellent work of friendship: to be with someone, wherever they are, just as they are.
After a while, I said my goodbyes, resisting the urge to cradle her face and stroke her hair. I wished she could see my tears, see how her skin dripping from her bones took my breath away.
Rodin, you have immortalized Woman perfectly.
Her precious body seared in my memory, I carry her now in my own reflection, reminding myself, that weathered does not mean wasted. The deposits of my vim and vigor go largely unnoticed, lost in the daily toll of laundry, meal prep, discipline, bathing, chores, playtime, and outings, but I have to believe that it all adds up to something wildly sacred. As I dance with the hands of time, I am only gaining beauty, not losing it.
Kelsi Folsom is a singer, wife, mother, lover of art, and adventure seeker, currently making her home in Saba, Dutch Caribbean. With her, few topics are off limits; She enjoys entering into brokenness and offering a flotation device, or at least a friendly face to tread water with. When she is not putting on her best Cherubino while changing dirty diapers, you can find her picking mangoes, *gasp* reading, making donuts with a toddler, enjoying a nap, or trying to make sense of her life over french press. You can grab a cup with her here.