Sometimes it takes a few years, and several off-island encounters, to appreciate the many qualities of our “living” Cape Breton culture. I say living because the spirit of Cape Breton, our collective heritage, is very much in the present tense — and often shows up in unexpected ways. For example, did you know that we have a unique and colorful way of expressing beauty?
A sense of belonging
Let me explain. Growing up in Glace Bay, my earliest recollection of beauty was defined not by conventional stereotypes, but by which blood-relative you looked like, walked like or acted like. Yessiree, you might have Aunt Hilda’s crooked smile or your father’s generous nose, but seeing that it was a part of Aunt Hilda or your dad, whom you loved, the reference was viewed as a precious compliment and worth its weight in lobster claws!
Best of all, upon hearing the family reference, you felt sensational; basking in a beauty that was not only physical, but one that encompassed a deep sense of kinship, connection, and community. In short, you were beautiful simply because you “belonged” and were part of a collective that would go on for a long time -– crooked smiles, big feet, freckles, and all.
Looking back, this unaffected day-to-day practice of Cape Bretoners smiling and verbally acknowledging your place in the community provided the most unabashed feeling of inner and outer beauty that I’ve ever experienced. After all, equipped with grandmother’s copper hair, father’s Port Hood sense of humor, and the family nickname, what else could one possibly need to greet the day or the world for that matter?
The gift of perspective
My Cape Breton heritage has given me the gift of perspective; so when a California group asked me to speak about beauty, it was only natural that I’d relish the chance to share the Cape Breton definition of what was “beaut-e-ful”. That being said, I was very aware that I was in the land of iconic California toned bodies, sun-kissed blond hair, and radiant blue eyes. Would our distinctive concept of beauty appeal to a group who had never set foot in Nova Scotia, let alone experienced the wiles of Cape Breton Island?
The safe route would have been to stick to the world-renowned beauty of our landscape, but the leprechaun inside was curious to kick the tires on the concept of beauty as a sense of belonging, so I decided to go for it.
The presentation began, and soon I was facing a sea of transfixed eyes. Resisting the urge to look behind me to see what captured their attention; I tried to make sense of the situation.
Then like the turn in a good Mabou fiddle tune, it hit me. As I spoke about cousin Lucy’s hands, grandfather’s dimples, and my sister’s eyes, audience interest started to grow.
By the time our East coast sense of hospitality folded into the mix, you could feel a pulse of energy run through the room as the audience appeared to shift its “perspective” on beauty. At that very moment, I knew for sure that Cape Breton’s definition of beauty, as it related to belonging, connection, and kinship had the ability to touch people, deeply, perhaps even on a healing or soul level.
“Cape Breton beauty” personified
As the session went along, there was a chance to weave in the Cape Bretoners’ profound attachment to the land, the sacred crossing of the Canso Causeway (my grandfather would invite us to “lift our feet” when we crossed over the bridge), the fiddle tunes, step dancing, and all the light-hearted “Ciamar a tha thu?” / “How are you?” (pronounced “kimmer a ha hoo”) that happens in-between.
The presentation ended with a bunch of California people excitedly asking for the “Cape Breton beauty” to be explained again and again. Some requested that I write it down or email it to them; one lady filled up and started to cry; and several young women shared that they had never thought about physical beauty in a way that included connectedness, community, and a sense of belonging.
Yes, they had never thought about it. We get to live the feeling every day.
Photo credit: Upslash
Mildred Lynn McDonald is a Healing Conversationalist; or a person who is good at engaging in conversation about becoming sound, whole, and healthy again. She is the host/producer of four podcasts designed to uplift energy and spark changes in your life. Get inspired!
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