The relational stance and therapeutic presence that our alumni embody in their vocations can take many different forms—whether it’s a private practice office, a mental health clinic, or an evening of R&B and manicures. Here, Ashlee Knight (MA in Counseling Psychology, 2012, and Assistant Director of Admissions), reflects on what she has learned about beauty by spending a little bit of time every week with women at the Aurora Commons. (Photo by Katie Pendergast.)
“When we awaken to the call of beauty, we become aware of new ways of being in the world…the wonder of the beautiful is its ability to surprise us. With swift, sheer grace, it is like a divine breath that blows the heart open.” –John O’Donohue
Since the beginning of October, my Wednesday nights have been spent hanging out with around twenty women at the Aurora Commons. The Commons serves as a neighborhood living room space along the north corridor of Aurora Avenue in Seattle. This is an area marked by unhoused neighbors, street based sex work, and drug use and transaction. On Wednesday nights we host Ladies Drop-In Night, welcoming in all women from the neighborhood. No two weeks are the same, but there are some consistent threads. We eat, we usually cry, we hug, we pick out clothes, we make coffee, we grab toiletries, knock on the bathroom door, hand out wound care kits, and we do nails. For at least an hour I am seated in a thrifted chair at a beautiful, long wooden table, surrounded by an array of nail polish colors, remover, cotton balls, and hands. Usually 90s R&B is playing from the stereo and I begin my rotation of my very own manicure salon. As each woman approaches for her turn (sometimes there truly is a line) I have her pick out her color and then I take her hands. These hands in my hands tend to be swollen and thick, usually scarred, sometimes with current cuts, scrapes, and wounds. They are almost always dirty. They receive transactions and needles and hold story upon story of darkness and death done to them.
I begin painting and I watch the women try to relax into the steady, slow movement of the brush and release the tension of their hand being held by mine. Sometimes we chat, and sometimes they fall asleep on my shoulder because they maybe haven’t slept in days. A few of the women mention they’ve never had anyone paint their nails before. Some of them tell me that their nails looks better with shellac done at the salon, some request fancy designs, and others ask me repeatedly to assure them that their nails look beautiful.
What these fresh coats of paint hold is something so much deeper than a pretty manicure. These hands that hold pain, suffering, violence, and despair are now the bearers of beauty. Naming these women as beautiful and giving them a tangible piece of beauty on their hands to remind them of this fact is, to me, a glimpse of the resurrection. We, for these brief moments sitting in the Commons, have the gift of being awakened to the call of beauty. We are awakened to an imagination of a different way forward—a way that is not marked by death or by violence but by beauty and hope.