all of the selves we Have ever been
I attended a beauty pageant.
It took place at a busy, suburban Bureau of Motor Vehicles office.
Arriving at the venue in the middle of a weekday morning, I was asked to sign in. The digital tablet told me the wait-time was 27 minutes.
The area was already crowded. There were no ushers, so I scouted out an empty seat on the opposite side of the room and sat down in one of the hard plastic chairs lining the wall that faced the stage. This position gave me a broad view of the entire audience and a bird’s-eye view of the runway.
Despite the crowded conditions and a wait that approached two hours, people were calm and friendly. Experienced with watching beauty pageants in my youth, I knew what to expect. These programs tended to be long and go on well past their scheduled hour.
Most people in the waiting audience stared into their smartphones. A few chatted with their neighbors and with me. The pageant staff was exquisitely kind and patient. This turned out to be a gracious setting.
One-by-one, individuals came up the runway. There were people of many ages, genders, and ethnicities. I didn’t see anyone in an evening gown or a swimsuit. That would have been gauche in this enlightened age. I reminded myself this was not a beauty contest, it was a scholarship program. Despite that, I could not help but notice the beauty of many of the people on the runway. There were people with beautiful complexions of many colors and heads covered with thick, dark curls or long blond pony tails. I noticed beautiful slender fingers and long, lean and muscular legs with pedicured feet and bright polished toe nails. I noticed big brown eyes and stylish eyeglasses. My jaw dropped when a particularly attractive young woman stated that she was 34 years old and had lived in Ohio her entire life. I’d have bet my last dollar that gal was no more than 19. And I could only imagine the beautiful face of an older man whose back was toward me. His speaking voice was as lovely as a tenor singing opera on one of the world’s great stages.
During the talent competition, there were no fiery batons, no ventriloquists, no tap dancers. There was no singing aloud, but I am pretty sure one of the women had a song in her heart. At the end of the long program, the talent trophy went to a husband and wife team. I am not sure if the act was magic or dance. It went like this: the wife kept one eye on her phone and one ear on her husband. Each time the husband was asked a question, the wife pulled papers from her purse. The man would turn to his wife, but before he could state what he needed, the wife handed him the correct document. This woman was prepared! An older couple, they likely had practiced this dance or this magic for a lifetime.
During the interview portion, no one was bold enough to suggest that world peace was possible during their reign. No one had a plan to save the planet, but several folks did agree to give organs to save a life. No one submitted to having his or her measurements taken, but pageant authorities did ask for confirmation of height, weight and hair color. Many people admitted to wearing corrective lenses. All of the contestants primped in front of a tiny mirror before having their official pageant photos taken.
The congeniality award went to the woman sitting next to me. Despite the length of the program, she did not once pick up her phone. She chatted kindly with other people and with the waiting children. I now know where she shops and the troubles she’s had with digital coupons. She’s been married twice and regrets having changed her name but not her husband, and she knows how to play nice with squirming children.
The last award of the day was the Quality of Life Award. It went to a sweet, brown-haired preschooler. He knelt on a chair chatting to his mother as she stared into a smartphone her finger sliding up and down the screen. In an act of courage, the little boy grabbed his mother’s face between his two tiny hands. He turned his mother’s face toward him and demanded, “Mommy! Please! Listen to me with your eyes!” I wanted to stop the program and hand that tyke the Nobel Peace Prize right there on the spot. He might be the one who saves the planet and brings about world peace during his reign.
All of us left the BMV as winners that day. I passed the eye exam in time to witness a pageant of beauty in a most unexpected place.