There was a 26 year age difference between my parents. My father, the older of the two, was taken to Auschwitz when he was 14. He spent almost two years in the camp before it was liberated. Although he ran a printshop by day, at night he hung out at City Light’s bookstore with the real bohemians, and worked for the Holocaust Center of San Francisco on capturing the stories of other survivors.
This is a story about the print shop.
Across the street from his shop was a famous bagel store. They left their two day old bagels on the street next to a side door for the large homeless population of San Francisco. They couldn’t sell the two day old bagels, but they were still delicious - having on more than one occasion bought a dozen for our family that we would munch well into the week.
There was also a trash problem on this busy, commercial street. One of the other shop owners decided that these two things were connected. The bagel bags were part of the trash - it must be the homeless people who were leaving them. It couldn’t possibly be the other more affluent customers.
A meeting was called of the neighborhood commerce association. A ballot measure was put to the floor to prohibit the leaving of the bagels.
My father stood up, in a crowd of his peers, and spoke in his booming, lightly accented voice.
“I was in a concentration camp. When I think about what I would’ve done for a two day old bagel it blows my mind. It’s clear to me that the people in this room have never known real hunger, because only someone like that would ever even consider standing in between hungry people and food that would otherwise be thrown away.”
Then he sat down.
The measure was unanimously shot down and everyone threw a few bucks into a pot to buy more trash cans.
In three sentences, I watched my father right an egregious wrong. I was 6 and I thought him to be a hero of immeasurable proportions.
It was only later I realized just how hard it is to be so open about the things that happen to you. Even harder still to tell a compelling story. Even harder to be brief. Hardest of all to use that story to galvanize some kind of action.
Lo and behold, I find myself facing my own horrible situation. This time it’s cancer. And suddenly, I find that when I tell this story to myself the character I identify with is actually the leftover bagels.
Because what I have to offer is not just my story, it is the very skin that I wear around everyday. It is my picture, my escapades, my product recommendations, my life. It's a little bit old, a little bit stale, but it's beauty comes not from the slow drying out that is aging, but from the gorgeous aftermath of being past it's prime and still being the source of something so useful. It's helping people, and being delicious.
I am not the gorgeous, lithe and idyllic beauty blogger - I am just me. But I am still moist, dewy and glistening with that egg rub. For a hungry person, starving for a beauty role model in a world of airbrushed, freckle-free, heavily contoured faces. I kind of like being the two day old bagel.
Just like my father’s story is about a printshop and bagels (as much or more than it is about the Holocaust) my own story is about beauty, self-care, redefining what makes me feel good about myself, and, as a framework, the Cancer that acted as a catalyst to all of these revelations. The cancer is not the story, what I helped to change because of it is…