Jane, after she got her hair cut and donated to cancer research.

Jane, after she got her hair cut and donated to cancer research.

I already have Jane’s tea made, waiting for her to wake up on her birthday.  We’ll go for lunch at our favourite restaurant and then likely catch a movie tonight.  But in sitting here waiting for her to get up, I realize my heart is filled with the kind of anticipation I have felt with her for years.  We’ll have tea on the porch swing shortly and that anticipation will only deepen.

There’s a beauty about Jane that is purely multi-dimensional.  She possesses it in the physical sense, naturally, but it quickly leaps from there to other realities.

Khalil Gibran, one of her favourite authors, notes that, “Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.”  Well, that’s a beginning, but doesn’t go far enough.  I much prefer Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s way of putting it: “People are like stained-glass windows.  They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within. 

Jane has lived through her own experiences of darkness.  The loss of her father a few years ago was a difficult blow, and yet death has been her companion for years.  In places like Somalia, Sudan, and Bosnia she had faced her fair share of human devastation.  But it was during her time in Rwanda, in 1991, that she confronted realities of human nature that she was never to forget.  For weeks she buried bodies in shallow graves – victims of one of the worst genocides in history.  When her time was finished, she was wasted.  I went to Trenton Air Force Base to pick her up. The moment I saw her move down the stairs in the company of military personnel I knew something wasn’t right.  It took a few days, but Jane eventually talked about what she had seen and experienced, but then clammed up again.

This is why I like the stained glass analogy.  There are some people who, despite their darkest circumstances, have a light glowing that will eventually emerge and help to right them again.  All the darkness in the world can’t put out the flame of one candle, and it was inevitable that the darker hues of Rwanda would eventually relinquish their hold on Jane.  She emerged deeper and more resolved, but somehow her belief in the goodness of humanity rose to the fore once more – a remarkable transformation.

There are those who endured true grief and trial and who become jaded and prejudicial as a result.  It’s understandable.  But somehow Jane escaped such clutches.  She had seen and endured the worst of humanity, yet made the conscious choice to live for its very best.  There are fewer things more beautiful than such a transition within the human soul.  Physical beauty does attract, but there’s something about Jane’s inner beauty that captivates me on an ongoing basis.  We have traveled much in our lives and I’m always reminded of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s observation that, “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.”  We’ve seen the majesty of some of the world’s most gorgeous places, including the vastness of Africa from the top of Kilimanjaro, but they were ever so much better because I witnessed them through Jane’s excitement and sense of daring.  But what is far more remarkable is that I can say exactly the same thing of some of the most unattractive places on the planet.  Who would have thought that in the devastation of places like Darfur I could still spot the beauty of the human condition?  Watching how women who have lost their homes, their villages, even their husbands and children, have risen in spirit and how they have latched on to Jane in the process has introduced me to the wonders of humanity and the ability of one single individual to inspire it.

Jane doesn’t like wearing dresses or skirts, preferring capris or even her hockey uniform, yet there is something refined about her.  Coco Chanel used to say that “elegance is refusal” because for one to maintain herself there must be the discipline to be your best.  Jane maintains that inner beauty through remarkably selfless acts of kindness to others that go one day after day.  There’s a rigor to it, a kind of dedication to the service of others that is wonderfully resolute – “stubborn” in its inner elegance.

Want to know just how beautiful Jane is?  Then watch as her lips speak healing words of kindness.  Her legs are always to be found walking beside those who fear being alone.  Her figure stays slim by always sharing food with the hungry. Her eyes stay young by always looking for the best in people.  If she’s that pretty in spirit now, just imagine how she’ll become more enchanting as she ages.  I know because I live with her.

Jane is the embodiment of what Ani DiFranco said of herself: “I don’t take good pictures ‘cause I have the kind of beauty that moves.”  Exactly.  Just follow Jane for an hour and you’ll see it for yourself, if you haven’t already.  I plan on doing that all day today for her birthday.  The happiest of birthdays Jane – and thank you.