Eye of the Beholder

Sunflower

May

Well, I think, this is awkward.
I’m sitting at an assisted dining table, helping two of my total-care residents eat their lunch. Behind me is an independent table and an interesting conversation I can’t help but overhear.
“She’s not as pretty as she she used to be,” says Mr. J, slurping his so-called soup. Mr. N shrugs and dips his sandwich in the soup.
“I don’t know about that,” he replies. “She just looks tired to me. Probably didn’t put her makeup on this morning so she could sleep in a bit.”
I glance over my shoulder, wondering if I should be offended if the woman under discussion is me. I’m spared that decision when I see that both men have their eyes fixed on the aide a few tables away. If I’m honest, she is looking a bit rough…but pretty good for someone who has pulled three double shifts in the last ten days. Her eyes are dull, with deep shadows beneath them and her body seems imprinted with weariness. She’s sitting in a slightly hunched posture and every so often she shakes herself vigorously, as if she’s trying to keep from dozing off. Okay, hold the “as if”. That’s exactly what she’s doing, having just worked a double yesterday. It’s the look we’ve all wore: that distinct look of utter exhaustion. I’ll probably be wearing that look tomorrow, as today is my turn for a double.
I just hope I’m as cheerful and pleasant tomorrow as she is today; exhausted she might be, but not surly, not short-tempered with the residents.
“Such a shame,” sighs Mr. J, still slurping. “She was such a looker before. I swear, there seem to be fewer girls here and they get plainer every week. Soon we aren’t going to have anything pretty to look at.”
Okay…now I’m really offended. I grit my teeth and tell myself it isn’t worth it. Let it go. Be professional. Then I spin around anyway at the sound of a loud splash, just in time to see the soggy remains of a sandwich riding a wave of tomato soup across the table. And it’s either a case of really good aim or laser-guided karma because the whole mess is sweeping towards Mr. J.
“Oh for the love of God,” Mr. N says, loudly enough that I am now not the only one staring at him, “how stupid are you? I think she’s the most beautiful sight in the world…when she’s working so hard to take care of us.”
By the time he’s finished, the wave of tomato soup has reached the edge of the table. The wave becomes a waterfall, then a puddle as it hits the floor…thanks to quick reflexes, I had managed to jump to my feet and pull Mr. J away just in time.
Mr. N glowers at me and I’m suddenly thinking that it was aim and not accident.
“My goodness,” he drawls. “You move like lightning, honey. You better slow down and conserve your energy for that extra shift tonight. Can you get me a new plate?”
But I don’t have to. The cook is already approaching us, a new plate in hand and I can’t help but notice that this sandwich looks…well, bigger.
Mr. J notices too, a scowl etching itself on his face. Mr. N just grins at him and pointedly tells the cook that she looks gorgeous.

Beauty is the eye of the beholder, they say.
But the eye of the beholder does more, I think, than merely judge beauty: they also serve as mirrors, reflecting back a view of yourself. And there are very few mirrors that show as flattering a reflection than the eyes of a resident, grateful and appreciative of the sacrifices you make for them.
That’s just one of the reasons why, under the frustration and beyond the stresses, I love my job. In this world of constant pressure to look “sexy”, my residents remind me that true beauty isn’t something you can put on in the morning.