My mother was always a devout Catholic, one of the biggest influences on my life and an all around remarkable woman. My father died when I was six years old leaving her to raise me and my sister as a single mother in the early 90s. Still, she managed to devote as much time as possible to us and still play an active role in the church and her community.
In 1991 when I was about 8 years old, our house burned down along with everything in it. I was young and it happened so fast so I don’t remember every detail, but I do remember my mom frantically yelling at me and my sister to get out while the living room was engulfed in flames. It happened around 2:00 a.m. and the house was gone in an hour. We didn’t have any relatives near by so the police drove us to a hotel close to church.
Remember when I said my mother was devout? We had never missed a 7:00 a.m. Sunday mass in all my years of existence and probably hers as well. Despite everything that had happened just hours before, she was more determined than ever to worship and be with her brothers and sisters at church.
Here’s where the vanity part comes in. When the fire ravaged through the house, nothing was spared. The makeup table where she meticulously made her face every morning, gone. Her closet filled with the beautiful dresses she was known for, gone. Her jewelry collection passed down from her mother, mostly gone as well. Since the fire happened in the middle of the night, all we had to wear was the bedclothes we had on at the time of the fire. Now, my mom was no shabby dresser. She always made an effort to look her best even when she was just going for groceries. To see her walk into church barefoot, barefaced, and in her nightgown was one of the most surreal moments of my childhood. My sister and I were obviously in a similar state but I was just happy to not to have to get dressed up for once on Sunday. At the time, the experience of going to church right after the incident and seeing the sympathy everyone had was only a minor part of a blurry memory. As I’ve gotten older though, that has changed. The image of my usually chic mother in her nightgown that day has forever been ingrained into my mind. Whenever I was feeling self conscious as a teen and later in life, I remembered how my mother looked that day. She wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed of the way she looked, she carried herself with dignity and pushed through that miserable day the best she could. In that moment, she was the most elegant I had ever seen her, clothed not in a fancy dress but in the love of God.
If there’s one thing I want people and especially Catholic women to take from this story, it’s that physical appearances really don’t matter in the scheme of things. As hard as it may be going out not looking your best, there is no person worth having in your life who thinks less of you because of the way you look. God loves you and made you more beautiful than you’ll ever imagine. As long as you have a love of God in your heart, you will never be truly bare.