About 11 years ago, before blogs were mainstream, I had an idea for a book I wanted to write. The idea struck me as I was reading People Magazine’s “Worlds’ Most Beautiful People” issue. While thumbing through the glossy pages of gorgeous people, reading about their body fat and height stats, I was struck with how utterly ludicrous the entire thing was. To call these pampered celebrities the world’s most beautiful people was insulting, single-minded, and representative of a good deal of what’s wrong with this country.
I could immediately think of a dozen people who were entirely more beautiful than these actors and entertainers. People who had lived through horrible life experiences and persevered – coming out on the other side with amazing and inspiring tenacity, guts and even humor – or those who spend their lives trying to help others have a better one. And I thought – why aren’t people like that celebrated in an annual issue…or better yet, a book?
At the time, the Boston Globe had a section in the Sunday edition… I can’t recall the name of it now… where readers could submit a question, a tip or a request. It was kind of an early Craig’s List, albeit on a much smaller scale. I submitted a question explaining my quest. I wish that I had a copy of it to quote – but the gist was “I am a budding author. I want to write a book on the beauty of the human spirit. If you have lived through an amazing experience that you are willing to share please write to me…”
But in my heart, I never thought I would get much of a reply.
I was wrong.
The letters that I received were overwhelming. At the time, the process was that readers wold send their replies to The Boston Globe and the Globe would send them to me. This allowed me to be anonymous and the readers/respondents – if they chose – to be as well. I couldn’t believe the number of letters that arrived – by the dozens – or the content within. It was too much – so much honesty and naked human emotion that I chickened out.
I never wrote the book.
I wanted to – I still do – but the stories these people were sharing with me were – while riveting – heart breaking and so personal. I felt it was a bigger responsibility than I could handle to take these stories and attach my own assessments to them in a public venue. Women wrote to me about domestic violence and rape; men wrote to me about the anguish of living after having killed men, women and children in wars. Parents wrote to me about living with the pain of having abandoned a child. It was so amazing that they wanted to share these stories with me – and something I wasn’t yet ready to handle.
So today I ask you, do you know a truly beautiful person? Have you lived through an experience that you never thought you would survive? Are your friends people who would rival any tear-invoking Hollywood character?
I think of people who have lost sons and daughters, lived through wars, are fighting cancer or lost entire families and are still trusting, honest and patient. I’ve seen people lose two spouses before the age of 30 and others who continue to live with the mystery and angst of a missing child. I wonder about those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001 and were left to raise entire families on their own, or young men like Jeff Capobianco, whose 29-year-old wife was killed in an office shooting after returning early from maternity leave. He was left to raise a 10-week-old daughter on his own. I don’t know Jeff, but I think of him often and I always wondered how he recovered from such an experience.
I know individuals who live their lives with as little material belongings as possible – spending their resources instead on world travel to spiritually connect and help others. I have heard stories of good Samaritans risking their own lives to save others and I have seen tremendous impact from the efforts of volunteers who build houses for the less advantaged, teach special education or are, quite simply, nurses who stay in highly stressful, undervalued careers because they truly love helping people.
If you know a truly amazing and beautiful person – and you’d like to share – please leave a comment here. I think we could all use some inspiration these days – let’s focus on the good things and remember that the human spirit is an amazingly resilient thing.