I was fifteen months old, a happy carefree kid . . . until the day I fell. It was a bad fall. I landed on a glass rabbit which cut my eye badly enough to blind it. Trying to save the eye, the doctors stitched the eyeball together where it was cut, leaving a big ugly scar in the middle of my eye. The attempt failed, but my mama, in all of her wisdom, found a doctor who knew that if the eye were removed entirely, my face would grow up badly distorted, so my scarred, sightless, cloudy and gray eye lived on with me. And as I grew, this sightless eye in so many ways controlled me.
I walked with my face looking at the floor so people would not see the ugly me. Sometimes people, even strangers, asked me embarrassing questions or made hurtful remarks. When the kids played games, I was always the "monster." I grew up imagining that everyone looked at me with disdain, as if my appearance were my fault. I always felt like I was a freak.
Yet Mama would say to me, at every turn, "Hold your head up high and face the world." It became a litany that I relied on. She had started when I was young. She would hold me in her arms and stroke my hair and say, "If you hold your head up high, it will be okay, and people will see your beautiful soul." She continued this message whenever I wanted to hide.
Those words have meant different things to me over the years. As a little child, I thought Mama meant, "Be careful or you will fall down or bump into something because you are not looking." As an adolescent, even though I tended to look down to hide my shame, I found that sometimes when I held my head up high and let people know me, they liked me. My mama's words helped me begin to realize that by letting people look at my face, I let them recognize the intelligence and beauty behind both eyes even if they couldn't see it on the surface.
In high school I was successful both academically and socially. I was even elected class president, but on the inside I still felt like a freak. All I really wanted was to look like everyone else. When things got really bad, I would cry to my mama and she would look at me with loving eyes and say, "Hold your head up high and face the world. Let them see the beauty that is inside."
When I met the man who became my partner for life, we looked each other straight in the eye, and he told me I was beautiful inside and out. He meant it. My mama's love and encouragement were the spark that gave me the confidence to overcome my own doubt. I had faced adversity, encountered my problems head on, and learned not only to appreciate myself but to have deep compassion for others.
"Hold your head up high," has been heard many times in my home. Each of my children has felt its invitation. The gift my mama gave me lives on in another generation.