When was the first time you felt beautiful? Not the kind of beauty you see in a mirror, but the kind you feel when you know that to someone who loves you, you'll always be a beauty.
Six months after my brother Joe was born, my mother was told he was totally blind and suffered from cerebral palsy, a condition that would impair his walking, but not his will.
I was 4 years old and had no clue what a gift Joe would be to me. Growing up, he was a thorn in my flesh, making me tell him stories or sing him to sleep. And if his tricycle got stuck in a ditch, as it always did, he'd yell for me to get him out.
Worst of all, he made me tell him what things looked like. I'd try my best to describe, say, the colors of a sunrise. The legs on a rooster. Or the cars on the trains that rattled past our house.
I'd try and try again. But if I didn't get it exactly as he saw it in his head, he'd say, "That's not it, Sister. Try again."
When I was 8, I accidentally broke out my permanent front tooth. A porcelain crown would cost more than my family could afford. So for years, my front tooth was a shiny silver crown.
Some boys at school meant no harm, but took great delight in chanting, "Here comes the Lone Ranger and her silver bullet!"
At first I liked the attention, such as it was. But it got old. One day, Joe heard me crying.
"What's wrong, Sister?"
"Nothin'!" I said. "Go away!"
He wouldn't let it go. When he got something in his head, he was like a dog with a bone. So I told him. And he laughed.
"A silver bullet!" he said, clapping. "What a hoot!"
Then I began to bawl and he hushed, took my face in his hands and ran his fingers over my eyes, my nose, my mouth.
"Sister," he said. "You're a beauty. Don't forget it. And if them boys don't leave you alone, tell 'em your blind baby brother will teach 'em some manners."
I wish you could've seen the looks on those boys' faces when I told them what Joe had said.
At 18, Joe decided he had learned enough at the school for the blind, got a job running the courthouse snackbar and rented an apartment to live on his own, 30 miles from our mother.
I was happy for him. Mama was not. Then one day she called me up in a hissy fit.
"He got MARRIED!" she said, "to a STRANGER of all things! We've got to do SOMETHING!"
"Calm down, Mama," I said, "I'll call him."
"HURRY!" she said.
Joe answered on the first ring.
"Hey, Sister, I figured you'd be calling. Yes, I got married. My wife is a real beauty. We've only known each other three weeks, and I know Mama's not happy about it. But even a blind man can fall in love at first sight."
His bride, Tommie Jean, was also blind. They'd walk hand-in-hand with Joe tapping the way with his cane. Rarely more than an arm's reach apart, they were always laughing and whispering secrets. Their happiness made everyone who saw it happier, even in due time, our mother.
In the eyes of the world, Tommie Jean was no beauty. She never saw her own face, but she radiated joy in a way that made her shine. She and Joe shared 10 good years before he lost her to cancer. And for him, she will always be a beauty.
When I sit down to do my makeup at a table filled with products that promise to work miracles, I remind myself that miracles can happen. Then I begin. Foundation. Concealer. Eye shadow. Mascara. Lipstick.
Finally, I look in the mirror hoping to see not the face I woke up with, but the one my brother sees when he pictures me. Some days I can almost hear him say, "That's not it, Sister. Try again."
But here's what I learned from his beloved: True beauty can't be seen in a mirror. It can only be felt in our heart and soul and in the touch of one who loves us.
The best beauty secret is love.
Sharon Randall is the author of "The World and Then Some." She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924, or by email at email@example.com.