“I’ll be what they see,” says Amanda. “They see me through eyes of love. I’d do anything for them, even this.”
The “they” she is referring to is her daughters. The “this” she means is “telling my girls that I think I’m beautiful.”
There are a lot of people like me. Women who know things. Women who have seen things. Women with diseases in their livers. There are a lot of women with scars on their arms and words that carry themselves like sparrows. There are women who were too big for this town, who had their backs bent carrying things like religion and a history that originated somewhere in the crook of a branch that extended over a stream. A place where a patch of the sky was visible through the leaves, where a little girl let her bare leg dangle too far down. . .
I want them to become women who remember me modeling impossible beauty. Modeling beauty in the face of a mean world, a scary world, a world where we don’t know what to make of ourselves.
What does this have to do with human rights? Well human rights, at least ideally, are based on human dignity. The most common understanding of human rights today is utterly devoid of any reference to a Creator or any coherent understanding of what a human being is. We know that we have human rights, but we don’t know why or where they came from. So, we think of more things that we want and fight to define them as rights.
But it doesn’t work that way. There cannot exist side by side, for example, both a universal right to life and a universal right to kill children in the womb. Human rights cannot be whatever they say they are. Human rights only make sense when understood as that to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being. And human being, in the truest sense, can only be understood as a creature. Thanks be to God that he became human to reveal to us what a true human being is.
If we want to uphold, or in some cases bring back, a culture of true human dignity–a proper understanding and valuing of what each human being is–we must believe and do what Amanda has here expressed. To demand that others be treated as dignified and valuable–even after having committed grave sins–simply because he or she is a human being, without treating myself as such is unfair if not hypocritical. When God told Moses “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” he didn’t mean you can treat everyone poorly as long as you treat yourself the same way. It is implied that, first, there must be a true love of self.
Along the same train of thought, I once heard a talk about confession while I was on a week-long silent retreat in the mountains of Salcedo, Ecuador. (Okay, so it was a silent retreat except for the liturgy sung with the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Youth, the Mass sung with Trappist monks, and the audio CD of talks to make sure the silence didn’t allow my mind to wander completely off track.) Anyway, listening to this talk was the first time that I realized that the Sacrament of confession, in the Roman Catholic understanding, is not a private matter.
In fact, what I say to that priest in that dark sound-proof box is quite a universal event. For if the Church is truly one body, the body of Christ, then each time that I go to Confession and am absolved of my sins, I am helping to make that body a little whiter. In a sense, I can actually go to Confession not only for myself but for my friends and family, offering this purification for those who have not the strength to do it or the understanding of its importance. It is actually quite humbling to know that it is not all about me and my sins.
Just as Amanda cannot expect her daughters to see themselves as beautiful if she doesn’t see herself as beautiful, or just as the United States cannot expect to beg Syria and Nigeria to stop the violence while we kill the most innocent in our own country, I cannot ask my friends and family to forgive each other or accept my forgiveness if I cannot humble myself enough to accept God’s mercy and forgiveness myself.