This is probably the best advice I ever received and, for the life of me, I can’t remember when I first heard it. Few of us can, though so many of us have heard these words before. On our first day of school, heading out to our first date, or even saying these words to someone else in our first attempt at sage like wisdom, these words echo in all of our ears.
Zoe Perissos shines these words from across the room. From the first glimpse of the purple streaks in her hair to the quick glimpse of a tattoo caught in passing, she is herself without a doubt. She is outspoken and vibrant, a genuine smile in rooms that can often be filled with well rehearsed show grins. There is a joy, a love that emanated from Zoe that is hard to place. It is one part mother, one part survivor, one part warrior, and yet so much more.
You could spend a lifetime trying to label her and never make one step toward the truth.
I have seen Zoe many times, we run in similar circles. There have been times we have chatted, that light banter you engage in for marathons sessions, and some amazing wisdom has even dropped during these moments. Something has always intrigued me about her, so the last time we ran into each other, I asked is she would be open to connecting.
And so we sit across from each other, at a table in a coffee shop, for a few moments that we have. We talk of networking and Charleston, of live and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a shared interest although the passion for it from her is palpable. We swap stories, compare notes on the world we live in but see differently, we open the doors.
We talk of our pasts, of paths walked, battles fought, and the darker places we have been. In a world where we often seek our commonality among our interests and fandoms, in the ranks of the groups we belong to or the name we have for God, we often forget that our common ground can be found among the broken places of the world.
Zoe and I both have scars, winding paths that have carved from us pieces shaping who we are, yet also taking something from us. Though our scars are similar, they may curve in the same direction or know a similar source, they are not the same. Our scares are as unique as our eyes, showing the paths we have walked in a way no one else can ever truly know. Over the years I have struggled with selectively showing my scars, keeping the deeper ones hidden from most.
And yet across from Zoe, I find myself unashamed of them, unafraid of the reaction of this person. This is the wisdom of Zoe, of this passionate force of nature in the body of a woman:
“Be fully who you are.”
It’s easy to say, “be yourself.” For so many of us, self is a construct, something we learn to build at an early age. Regardless of the discovery’s origin, whether from a beating or a smile, we learn to shift our outside to please others. We find ways to make ourselves happy, or appear so, and so we learn to want what we don’t have, to covet the form of the mask we don.
But the world isn’t full of rainbows and unicorns. People hurt daily, not just those in the frames of news stories passed by quickly in social media frenzies, but next to you, at the table, in the line at the coffee shop, behind the door of the house by yours. Too many of them cover their scars, find their “best selves” to show you, because they are afraid, they are hurt; they feel broken.
Then there are people like Zoe, beautiful, amazing souls who bear their scars like beauty marks. They live with a light like the sunrise, a fire that comes from the horizon, from the reality that but a little while before the world was dark and scary. Now her hair shines even more brightly for me, because I know the night from which this sun emerged, and will continue to, not just for her, but also for others who have forgotten that the sun always rises.
Zoe Perissos knows the world isn’t always pretty. She knows about cracks in the rainbows, about broken glass and the things that cut, stab, and pound at us, about the tyranny of whispering voices when you’re alone. And still she smiles, with all of her joy, with all of her passion. She smiles in the light, in the dark, and in the grey. Zoe wakes up in the morning; she gets out of bed and shows her scars.
She is fully herself and she is stunning.
It’s easy to find beauty when you pretend that pain doesn’t exist, that scars don’t take a piece of you in their making, that you aren’t shaped and formed along the roads you walk. But true beauty knows that the scars forged on the surface of our lives shape the most resilient, loving, and wondrous places in our hearts. The truly beautiful show their scars to the world not with the absence of fear, but with the knowledge that fear will pass as love moves forward.
Zoe shows her scars to the world, unashamed of her beauty.
She is fully herself. Truly.