Saturday, May 6, 2017
“If you think someone is ugly, look harder. Ugliness is just a failure of seeing.” ― Matt Haig
I have never liked the way I look, actually hate the sight of myself—really overweight, covered with scars (surgical and otherwise), my skin full of spots and warts, and a large hairless spot on my head from the radiation target long ago (two months every day to remove cancer). I dislike my own appearance so much that I am always surprised when other people want to be around me or come to see me. We only have one mirror here, and I seldom look in it. My wife still thinks I am handsome, and I just think she’s crazy (although I do like it). Now all of this self-loathing of my appearance flies in the face of all of my preaching and teaching since I became a Christian over twenty-five years ago. It also seems absurd when I think of the man I admired, loved, respected, and counted as a close friend and professor. He was gentle, witty, highly intelligent, an internationally famous scholar, and genuinely cared about me, what I wrote, and what we talked about when we were together--he listened intently, a rare trait. He was to have been my dissertation director but died suddenly at the age of 67. We had lunches together on campus, dinners at his house, and attended dinner parties at a mutual friend’s house. He insisted on reading all the papers I had written getting my Master’s in American Literature at Cal Poly (no one else ever asked to read them). He also nominated me to receive the first Charles Oxford award for the best graduate student in English (which I won). He was so smart that he corrected the foot notes in our text books and had Arkansas Supreme Court justices call him for his advice on special cases. He made me smile whenever I saw him, and yet, and yet—he was extremely overweight, hardly handsome, chain smoked, had tobacco stains on his teeth and fingers, but I never really saw any of that. What I saw was who he was, what he was, how he made me feel, and what a great friend, professor, and colleague he was, and yes, he even admired me.
How could I love, respect, admire, and want to simply have conversations with Ben Kimpel and still hate myself? That is just stupid. My hating myself would mean that Ben was crazy for liking me and flawed in his judgement—and he was universally loved and respected. He has a building named after him (never mind that he thought it the ugliest building on campus) and has a statue and for a long while, maybe still has, a lecture series in his honor. If I can’t disrespect Dr. Kimpel for liking me, how can I disrespect God for loving me as well? I hope you can see that this is really about you. God didn’t make no junk—not me, ugly as I am, and not you either—and you can take that to the bank.