Photographs by Stefan Bremer, courtesy of Charles Krause.

On a chilly Sunday afternoon, I pedaled downtown to see a photography exhibit. As I parked my bike and dialed the apartment number, I wondered what I was walking into. I didn’t know the gallery or its owner, but a dear friend had told me I simply had to see these photographs. On the strength of her word I stood, and a voice welcomed me and buzzed me in.

Charles Krause opened the door for my wind-swept self and took my cold hand into a warm handshake, and bid me to enter the gallery. There were 2 other guests there, and all 3 gave me the freedom to move through the exhibit on my own. The first few photographs struck me as lovely, but it wasn’t until I got my breath back and really started looking that I began to see.

The photographs were all of Finland’s DuvTeatern Theater Company, and all featured the actors in costume for a performance of “Carmen”. As the exhibit papers told me, “This unusual production included 12 actors and dancers with Down Syndrome or other intellectual disabilities …. DuvTeatern’s “Carmen” became, overnight, a glorious critical and artistic success…”

Photographs by Stefan Bremer, courtesy of Charles Krause.

The actors and dancers were stunning — bedecked in bright costumes, ornamented with flowers. Yet I couldn’t stop looking at their hands; specifically, the hands of the woman pictured below. For reasons inexplicable, those hands just moved me.

Those hands, wrapped around the stem of a lily. As I looked at them I started to feel a tremendous courage in the room with me, a courage that was like a presence, alive.

I knew without a doubt that it was their courage, their strength — these people who dared to be beautiful in a world that often fails to recognize true beauty. These people challenged my fears and filled up my eyes. They made me want to live bigger. They made me feel like I could dance.

As I entered the second room of the exhibit, I was relieved to be alone; I could feel my composure starting to go. And then I came upon a small portrait that undid me completely.

Photographs by Stefan Bremer, courtesy of Charles Krause.

It was the same diva whose hands had entranced me in the other room. Now, however, instead of a giant portrait, I found an illuminated image of her fitted into a small alcove. It was the kind of thing one doesn’t expect to encounter amidst a series of majestic canvases — an amazing picture tucked to the side.

And in gazing at this work, I thought of how many times throughout history when we have hidden people with special needs away. We have segregated them from the rest of us, and pretended like it was ‘best’. My heart ached to think of how many were locked away, their beauty never to be shared.

And then, by contrast, I encountered this diva … this woman whose portrait was tucked away. But I could see that this placement was a celebration, not an isolating choice. This little alcove showcased her delicate loveliness. Her portrait was a treasure just waiting to be discovered.

If I’d been alone, I would have knelt down and wept for past cruelties, and for people (because there have always been some) who have had the strength to see past difference into a new world of grace.


As I pedaled away, my heart was full of everything I’d seen. But something made me stop my bike abruptly. I was passing a church, and the words on the gates outside called out to me.

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me …. As you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”

And as I saw those words, something in me said, Yes. That’s what I feel.

Despite the life I’ve lived, despite the people I’ve loved, there are times when I lose my way and forget what is real, lasting loveliness. I start to think that my beauty and worth depends on how I measure up to models, how much I can achieve, or how hard I push myself to meet an impossible standard.

At times like these, I become a stranger to the world of true beauty, of what it means to really shine.

I was a stranger, and the DuvTeatern Theatre troupe invited me in to their world: a world where beauty is about having the strength to become who you already are.


Have you ever felt yourself invited into a new version of beauty?

Tell me in the comments! I love hearing your thoughts.

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  1. Tam February 27, 2012 at 7:08 PM - Reply

    As our next baby’s birth approaches, I have been reading so many beautiful stories of natural pregnancy and birth. This post was gorgeous and made me again think about how different a woman’s birth experience could be if she could see the process as the beautiful miracle that it is.

    I was so blessed to have a loving husband who always told me how he loved me pregnant, stretch marks, belly button popped out and all. A shop attendant once, sympathetically, mentioned that it must be hard to feel cute when I was so pregnant. I looked her in the eye, said,”Actually it’s not at all.” and promptly left the store.

    Seeing beauty in womanhood, in curves, in cyclical changes, in pregnancy, in birth, in the lovely rhythm of life – this is what I wish all women and particularly those in my life!

    Love you, Cari! Thank you for continuing to challenge us to think broad and new.

    • Caroline McGraw February 27, 2012 at 7:29 PM - Reply

      Tam, I’m so glad that the post spoke to you right where you are — and I totally agree with Niall, you are radiant! 🙂 I love you too.

  2. Greg Lease February 27, 2012 at 7:33 PM - Reply


    Your words have reached deep into my heart and shaken my perspective (and it needs regular shaking) to refocus on what is true and enduring. We are so easily seduced into thinking that what is momentary and superficial is significant, and we lose sight of what is enduring and substantial and essential. If everyone is created in the image of God (and I believe that is true) then every person carries within them God’s beauty, then that beauty is surely revealed by in the moments when we live fully into who we really are. For most of us, that seems to be glimpses–flashes of beauty and light–of who we might be when we push through the fear and find the courage to be who we really are.

    Thank you for sharing who you are and the gift with which you have been entrusted. You may at times feel like a “voice crying in the wilderness,” but we need to hear, and be changed.


    • Caroline McGraw February 27, 2012 at 7:38 PM - Reply

      Greg, what a powerful comment! Thank you for your words. That’s exactly what I wanted to capture in this post – those “flashes of beauty and light – of who we might be when we push through the fear and find the courage to be who we really are.”

  3. Mary February 27, 2012 at 8:23 PM - Reply

    It is indeed an amazing show. I’m so glad you liked it (though I just knew you would)!! I would recommend everyone go see it if you are in DC between now and the first week of April (after which the exhibit closes). If you want more info, or to contact Charles Krause to find a time to stop by to see the exhibit, check out:

    You won’t be disappointed.

    I went to the opening of the exhibition, and spoke with the director of DuvTeatern. She is an amazing woman, and the program she runs seems like so much fun! I wish it weren’t in Finland so I could participate!

    What is most interesting about the diva with the flowers in her hair and the calla lily in her hand, I learned from the program director, is that she generally does not speak. She stood out front on the stage and mouthed the words, and had a “shadow singer” who stood just behind her. At the performance, however, she whispered clearly into the microphone one word: “l’amour.” Incredible. Imagine if “love” was the one word that we all whispered for the whole world to hear?

  4. Tara February 27, 2012 at 8:36 PM - Reply

    I love that you were left to enjoy these photos on your own in the gallery, so they could truly speak to you. My own experiences over the last three years have led me to change my version of what is beautiful. I am truly in awe of the human brain and it’s capacity for neuroplasticity. During times of great stress the brain will step in and do what is necessary to protect the soul. I am awestruck each time I think of it.
    Bless the artists in these pictures, and their willingness to share their talent and beauty in photographs as well as through performance.

  5. Patti February 27, 2012 at 9:45 PM - Reply

    Sweet, soft powerful words, there are no accidents. You went, you saw, you felt and then to pass by the church…
    Thank you always for sharing

  6. Patricia February 27, 2012 at 10:30 PM - Reply


    Your words (people), are spirit and life. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me …. As you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.” This Scripture is from today’s Gospel, Matthew 25:31-46.

    Thank you for opening up and listening with your heart and sharing what you were given to see. It is in the everyday ordinary places we are given eyes to see a glimpse of the Divine presence in people.

    God Bless you,

    • Caroline McGraw February 27, 2012 at 11:17 PM - Reply

      Oh my goodness, Patricia … I had no idea that that was from today’s lectionary! That is wild. 🙂

    • Caroline McGraw February 27, 2012 at 11:17 PM - Reply

      Given Patricia’s comment below, I can’t help but agree, Patti! You are most welcome.

    • Caroline McGraw February 27, 2012 at 11:18 PM - Reply

      Mary, I’m so glad you encouraged me to go – and that you shared that amazing part of the story here. And your question is perfect. Thank you again.

    • Caroline McGraw February 27, 2012 at 11:20 PM - Reply

      What a great point, Tara. I just finished Jill Bolte Taylor’s amazing book, “My Stroke of Insight”, and your comment reminded me so much of it; like you, I am awestruck.

  7. Renee February 28, 2012 at 1:41 AM - Reply

    Thank you for sharing this very powerful post and for the reminder to look for the gifts in everyone-even those whom society would normally hide away, thinking that a person challenged in any capacity couldn’t possibly have anything of value to offer the world. Sometimes they are the greatest teachers.

    • Caroline McGraw February 28, 2012 at 3:30 AM - Reply

      Amen to that, Renee. It was a transformative experience for me, and for others who saw the show, and I’m thankful to share it with you.

  8. Traci Downey February 28, 2012 at 1:42 AM - Reply

    Your words are truly spirit and life. Thank you. As the mother of 21 year old son, an extraordinary young man with developmental disabilities, your words give courage and hope.

    • Caroline McGraw February 28, 2012 at 3:31 AM - Reply

      Traci, you made my night with your comment! Thank you so much; I’m both humbled and honored.

  9. Metod February 28, 2012 at 2:28 AM - Reply

    Dostoyevsky once said – The beauty will save the world! I remember hearing these words for the first time…the phrase really captivated me and did not let go ever since. I think there are these moments when we see people as they are…without the mimic. When they’re searching for their own dignity and human respect. That’s when their beauty shines through, no matter how hard circumstances.

    Thank you for this wonderful story Caroline. The pictures are worth thousand words. Like you have written – these actors and dancers who dared to be beautiful in a world that often fails to recognize true beauty. Thank you for sharing this beauty with us and doing your noble part of saving the world…in Dostoyevsky words. Not to mention you even pedaling to the museum. He would be delighted! 🙂

    • Caroline McGraw February 28, 2012 at 3:33 AM - Reply

      What a great connection, Metod! The quote fits very well here; it’s amazing how powerful it is when one person dares to believe in their beauty.

  10. Brooke (Books Distilled) February 28, 2012 at 2:38 PM - Reply

    I loved this post! During this time of Lent I feel called not to deprive myself of beauty but to seek it out in all its simplicity, in the ordinary moments of life–watching the sunset from the train, taking time to write every morning, and praying as the day comes to a close. Thanks for such a beautiful reflection.

    • Caroline McGraw February 28, 2012 at 4:26 PM - Reply

      🙂 Thrilled that the post added to your experience of Lent, Brooke!

  11. Allison February 28, 2012 at 7:55 PM - Reply

    Caroline, I think this is my favorite of all your posts! The story of the exhibit is beautiful, as is your telling of it. Thank you for sharing all you did, especially the incredible, moving portraits. I really needed this reminder of real beauty when I read this post yesterday-and I don’t think it’s an accident that I read it when I did. It brought me right out of the funk I was in, and reminded me of the true beauty we all possess, if we, like the inspiring actors, are brave enough to find it through sharing ourselves with the world.

    • Caroline McGraw February 28, 2012 at 8:03 PM - Reply

      Alli, I’m thrilled – thank you! I always look forward to your posts; your photographs inspire me every time. Thank you for helping me to see the beauty all around us.

  12. Jen Gresham February 28, 2012 at 8:00 PM - Reply

    Stunning writing and photographs that grab your heart and won’t let go. Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing these. I love this.

    • Caroline McGraw February 28, 2012 at 8:08 PM - Reply

      You’re welcome, my dear Jen – I’ve been just amazed by the response. Thank YOU for always challenging me to be courageous like these actors!

  13. […] reblogged from: A Wish Come Clear » I was a Stranger to Beauty (and Who Invited Me In). […]

  14. Stefan Bremer February 29, 2012 at 9:47 AM - Reply

    Dear Caroline
    Im Stefan Bremer the photographer of the pictures of Duv Teatern´s Glorious Carmen exhibition.
    I got your wonderful review of the Duva/Diva exhibition through Charles Krause. I was truly touched by your writing as I felt you really had experienced what we had strived for. To give these special persons the center focus. We were talking about beauty, whom has the right to be the Diva, but finally of Love, of love between us and within us.
    Your writing has moved a lot of people here in Finland as i posted it on my Facebook page. So far over 50 of my Facebook friends have liked it and a lot of people has commented your text.
    Thank you and I wish you would push your friend to go to see the Exhibition at Charles Krause Reporting Fine Art Gallery in Washington.
    Stefan Bremer

    • Caroline McGraw February 29, 2012 at 2:16 PM - Reply

      Stefan, what a wonderful surprise! I’m thrilled to read your comment, and I must say thank you for the incredible photographs – which, as you say, are finally about love, between us and within us.
      Thank you.

  15. ndop February 29, 2012 at 7:06 PM - Reply

    Hi Caroline, meet me again, I who make your line art (black and white) vector

    Wow this post is very a+mazing…

    We are all a stranger, but love make us acceptable to another…

    • Caroline McGraw March 1, 2012 at 1:45 AM - Reply

      Thank you so much for stopping by, Muhammad! I’m glad you liked the post. 🙂

  16. […] HOME AboutBooksAffiliatesThank You!ContactCopywriting!Love’s Subversive StanceWhy The Name? « I was a Stranger to Beauty (and Who Invited Me In) […]

  17. […] although we might feel like strangers to true acceptance, we are always invited in to a new vision of beauty … one that would not be complete without people with autism and special […]

  18. Jesus Bravo March 26, 2012 at 2:26 PM - Reply

    Caroline, Tim
    These are great and Powerful , I happened to do hair and make-up for a group of women from The Center of Indepent Living here in Miami a few years ago, all with phisical disabilities….. It was then when I undestood Beauty…Raw Beauty was the name of the travelling Exhibit…..Thank you for sharing

    • Caroline McGraw March 26, 2012 at 2:41 PM - Reply

      Thank you, Jesus! What a great comment; so glad you found the piece reflective of your own experience.

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