He had a nose describable as huge, ugly, repulsive and peninsula-like. But he had a heart of a poet, the courage and skill of a master swordsman and the tender compassion of a saint. He was called Cyrano and was secretly enthralled with a beautiful maiden called Roxanne whose charms could match the fabled Helen of Troy. His love for her was so burning, so passionate, pure and undying that he would skewer any imprudent loudmouth for even a hint of disrespect toward the Lady of his heart. He, with this deep love hidden in his being, never revealed his ardor for her, fearing rejection and humiliation. How, he thought, could she, this angel, this unique flawless jewel, ever view me romantically when I am so very ugly and repugnant—even to myself!
But her eye was caught by an incredibly handsome, utterly empty headed soldier, Christian, who could barely articulate his own name. Ironically, this underdeveloped bovine like near Cretan, this stammering verbal oaf, won the hand of the gorgeous lady through elegant words supplied by Cyrano. Christian was the mouthpiece, the front, the persona while Cyrano was the heart, the soul, the mind, the poetry, the enthusiasm behind the words. Without the dynamic words of Cyrano, Christian would balk, panic and blush. He would irritate the Lady who impatiently demanded the moving words of love she thought he was so capable of delivering. Thus basically Roxanne, unknowingly, fell in love not with external physical charm, as attractive as that was, but with the internal and lasting beauty of real Love. It resonates Holy Scripture which reminds us that “the beauty of the King’s daughter is within.” It is physical beauty which is only skin deep.
Human history is replete with illustrations of the human capacity to be seduced and indeed deceived by the superficial. Obviously, on the sexual level, we (dominantly, in all probability for males, at least) are, initially, visually attracted by the physical form or style of movement of others. The engine of involuntary and universal attraction is pleasure. Such wiring by the Creator is good and intentional for species survival. But to the dismay of inexperienced and naïve newcomers to the delights of the flesh, sex, alone, usually, if not invariably, leads to satiation and surprisingly, sometimes, revulsion. The limitations of sex by itself, unaccompanied by authentic love, are fairly obvious. However, their search for joy is normal and legitimate. But their means of achieving real joy is mistaken. They have been seduced by the Cyrano syndrome or (put otherwise) they have been living with and for the superficial.
The delusion of many moderns can be illustrated by current studies on the rise of sexless marriages, coupled with the frantic Orgasm Hunt so popular with the “First avenue Bar” types and the high rate of divorce. Ad agencies scramble to outdo each other in pushing sex aid devices for frustrated males. The human landscape is more than dotted with bored, angry ex-partners. And how many males have experienced self revulsion immediately after using the services of the daughters of night! So often disappointed at the disparity between the reality and the fantasy expectation! What goes wrong century after century with human beings in our repetitive faulty choices and judgments? How explain the widespread delusion so often accompanied by feelings of interpersonal betrayal? “You” promised me a Rose Garden!!! Instead, you gave me an empty reed! Would it be gauche even to suggest a little factor called Original Sin as an explanation? Catholic teaching holds that by that Primordial event, our human intellect has been darkened and our human will has been weakened leaving us vulnerable to deception and bad choices. It has ever been such!
The ancient folk lore still teaches the old song of “Natura humana non fallitur”. No matter how elegant and sophisticated we become, human nature never changes! And humans sometimes “go for” the external and the superficial, totally blocking out consequences of behavior. And the disillusion and anger follow! Certainly, it is not only on the sexual level that the “Cyrano Syndrome” operates. It can take many forms. Misjudgments about others is obviously commonplace. Since none of us has complete data about another’s interiority, we are in no real position to be apodictic about another’s inner value or beauty. Let alone their motivation. Mere externals can be egregiously off base. Nevertheless, our tendency is to be captivated by the “outside” where, alas, unfortunately we often halt!
There are two big lessons to be gleaned from a reflection on the Cyrano Syndrome.
First, there are huge deposits of generosity, compassion, depth, love and courage deeply embedded within the souls of others and which are not easily accessible to hasty observation. To be superficial in assessments of the “other” leads to being superficial in human relationships. To neglect to see the whole person is a fundamental disadvantage. Human happiness is heavily dependent on full and deep interpersonal relationships which take time to build, to understand, to appreciate. For example, there have been numerous marriage unions which have foundered because of the failure to “behold” one’s spouse as a person, one of both soul and body. The lovely old love song “Believe me if all these enduring young charms….” highlights the lasting loveliness of a person whose young physical gifts fade with age. But, the beauty of the personality has deepened and grown while bravely/ virtuously withstanding the trials and pains of a lifetime. To miss this point is to go through life half awake! Assessing a person solely in terms of a big nose, bald head or a wrinkled face is to go through life half asleep!! Who is the really beautiful one? Is it the wrinkled, shrunken, pale Mother Teresa or is it the manicured, festooned, frozen faced, gaudily dressed, non-entity of tabloid’s page six ? Is it Hugo’s Quasimodo or even Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster with their surprising capacity for tenderness? Or the botoxed freneticist of Hollywood? The questions are obviously rhetorical.
Second, the one with the big nose, the bald head and the wrinkled face can, likewise, fall prey from the opposite direction. Cyrano was deeply convinced that the beautiful Roxanne could never see past his physical deformity. His confidence in his own abilities was enormous in all things but this. He was revolted by his ugliness, incorrectly thinking that the source of human beauty is physical. His self revulsion left no emotional room for the one powerful factor which is his real ultimate answer. In his view, the negatives of physicality can trump all the inner positives of virtue, charm and character. Such a view could be habitual unless one recognizes the basic fact that the human being, any human being, with big nose or not, is of infinite value to the Lord, our God.
It is alleged that the great St. Thomas Aquinas who was called “The Angelic Doctor” would take a crucifix, hold it in his hand and note that were he the only person ever to live, the Divine Jesus would have gone through all that terrible Passion and Death—just for him. The obvious lesson is that any human being is loved implacably by the all-loving Lord. Such love is not dependent on good looks, youth, intelligence, charm, power or achievement. Just being human is all it needs! This love, likewise, is not dependent on the assessments of others. The very substantial bonus to understanding God’s love for us is ---- freedom. Freedom from “human” respect. Freedom from the paralysis of “How do they see me?” Freedom to be the person I truly am.
What would it take for a Cyrano-like person to incorporate this fact? What risk would be involved for a person with shaky self esteem to open his heart and trust Jesus? What more can He do to show His love for us, in our own beauty, than to give us His constant companionship, forgiveness and compassion? The answer one gives might reveal one’s personal answer to the question which opened this essay. Who is the really beautiful one?