So…it’s been awhile…again. Life has a way of really wrecking my everything, and I’m not overly fond of it. But that’s where you find good writing. That’s where you find good thinking. People who have nice, flowery, wonderful lives don’t tend to have deep wells of wisdom to draw from. So, I guess I’m on track to be a wise old man. I’m marginally okay with that, but I have to be honest…sometimes (read: most of the time) I’d prefer less wisdom if it also meant less turbulence.
Anyhow…in the past several months as I’ve struggled through the ugly and tried to find meaning in the midst of it, I’ve had a unifying thought. Beauty. Beauty is somehow…right. No, that’s the wrong word. It’s hopeful. No…I can’t properly describe it for you. One day a song comes on the radio, and it fits your soul like a missing puzzle piece. That’s beauty. You see your son sleeping, snoring ever so slightly. Beautiful.
There are deer in your front yard grazing. When you see something that is truly and honestly beautiful, it makes you feel like there is something greater in the world and for just a moment you are at least somewhat a part of that thing.
Anyhow, I’ve thought a lot about beauty lately. I’ve been trying to figure out what role it plays in our lives (or what role it should play). There’s a concept in philosophy that breaks existence into three fundamental categories (called transcendentals): Truth, Virtue, and Beauty.
Truth points us to something. It tells us how things are. Virtue points us away from things. It tells us how things shouldn’t be. Beauty draws us to something. It suggests what could be. And because of that, it’s harder to handle. Truth tends to be right or wrong. And so it is with virtue (at least to some degree). But beauty is tricky. It eludes us when we try to pin it down. Take a picture of a sunset and see if you can replicate that feeling. Nope. It’s gone. All that is left is the memory of that feeling. That feeling that was drawing you toward something bigger, something better.
That’s why we need beauty, particularly during tragedy. When life is ugly, we need something to draw us away from the ugly. We need something to draw us out of ourselves and encourage us to feel like we are a part of something bigger. Because we are. It’s easy for me to focus on my tragedy. It’s easy for me to list out all the things that have happened around me. But to do so is to focus on a few notes in a song. It’s to focus on one square inch of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Maybe those notes are unpleasant. Maybe that square inch has seen too much smoke from candles. On their own they may be less than pleasant. But somehow a larger perspective allows them the context to participate in something larger, something legitimately beautiful.
That’s impossible when we fixate on them. We have to almost forget they are there, and to do so we need to look elsewhere. We have to refocus. We need a distraction. Truth isn’t going to help me grieve. Neither is virtue. But beauty…it reminds me that the song isn’t over. My life isn’t limited to those few bad notes. It reminds me that the painter isn’t done. That smoke stained inch is only a speck of my life. As I step back, even for just a moment, I can catch a larger perspective of what’s happening. I catch the melody. I see the stain fade out as a vibrant red fades in. And when I do…it is beautiful.