Twisted Mouth

(Written by Surgeon Richard Selzer MD)

I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.

Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.”

She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says, “It is kind of cute.” All at once I know who he is. I understand and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.

Richard Selzer, M.D., Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery

In this story I find a beautiful metaphor for God. Can we imagine God like a lover who accepts us as we are and bends down to gently and tenderly kiss us in all or any of our physical, emotional or spiritual deformity or disfigurement.

This is also a reminder of the power of loving and showing love by accepting people right where they are and just the way they are.

And finally a reminder of self acceptance, for our own healing.  We can often can feel “twisted” within for a variety of reasons and can be quite hard on ourselves.  Healing comes we can treat ourselves tenderly and kindly with self love and self cherishing.  Why are we so harsh and hard on ourselves?

Geneen Roth says, “For some reason, we are truly convinced that if we criticize ourselves, the criticism will lead to change. If we are harsh, we believe we will end up being kind. If we shame ourselves, we believe we end up loving ourselves. It has never been true, not for a moment, that shame leads to love. Only love leads to love.”

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