As I’ve grown older, and as I am more in touch what is within me, rather than what is outside of me, my idea of “what beauty is” has changed.
Let me try to explain. I was surprised several years ago when I took an online “values inventory.” I wanted to answer the questions as honestly as I could, as close to what I really think are my values, not the values I think I “should” have. When I tallied up the results of the values survey, “beauty” was number 1 for me.
As a child, I used to love to make some beauty in my room. I’d carefully rearrange the small bottles of cologne I had somehow found – maybe old bottles of my mother’s from her mirrored vanity – onto a mirrored, gilt-edged vanity tray I must have gotten as a gift, along with a few other pretty, small items, on the tall, mahogany-colored veneer dresser that was mine. First I’d dust the dresser, then I’d cover it with the cotton doily with a ruffle that was mine, and with an eye to beauty, I’d move my treasures around.
I remember as a teenager having the house to myself one day. For some reason, my mother was gone. I spent the afternoon cleaning the living room, dusting the furniture, rearranging a few things, straightening up messy places. Then I took a trip to the covered farmer’s market on the corner of 28th and Center, where I found a lovely bouquet of peonies, which I arranged to grace the top of the television set. Finally, I sat down to enjoy my work. I was surprised – maybe even disappointed – when my mother came home later, obviously noticed what I’d done, and didn’t say a word.
I still love to arrange small spaces in a way that appeals to my own sense of beauty. A friend once commented that I would make a great window-dresser in a department store. For awhile, I fantasized about a life I would never have, an artist’s life in New York City, making up the windows of some huge department store.
When I was in Paris and in Florence, I noticed the windows of small shops and boutiques. Sometimes I stopped at a window to simply enjoy the elegant beauty arranged by some careful European.
Beauty is a high value of mine, but that doesn’t mean I don’t long for justice, that I don’t pray for food and shelter for all people, or that I don’t mourn losses with friends and even foes. All of those things are true for me, as well. Maybe having “beauty” as a value is a way toward economic justice, a path toward equality, a marker on the way to reconciliation and peace.
At the very least, I do think beauty in its myriad, abundant forms is an element of justice and truth and equality – and hope.
What Beauty Is, is changing for me, and that’s the purpose of this writing. Beauty is a walk. Beauty is my husband’s eyes, the shape of his face. Beauty is the sound of early Sunday morning, while the city wakes up, slowly. Beauty is the sound of a train moving quickly to its destination in the distance, the sound having arrived because of a certain wind. Beauty is the trees across from my window, dancing in the wind. Beauty is a wind-less day, complete stillness. Beauty is reading a poem that takes my breath away. Beauty is an afternoon with humidity in the air in the Bay Area, which drifts me back to my younger years on the nostalgia it brings. Beauty is the city streets, anytime. Beauty is the variety of people I pass on a walk around Oakland, each one of them beautiful, too. Beauty is children’s eyelashes. Beauty is a deeply wrinkled dark face. Beauty is the little dog from my neighborhood, running to greet me. Beauty is breath, and sight, and hearing. Beauty is listening to a Gospel song, and dancing to it. Beauty is laughing, gales and gales of laughter. Beauty is sadness and happiness and goodness and mercy, all rolled into one. Beauty is the tall apartment buildings rimming Lake Merritt. Beauty is the skyline of the City from the top of the Oakland hills. Beauty is the sound of rain after too many seasons of drought.
Most of all, I’m grateful to Beauty for having made Her place in my life a matter of importance to me. I am grateful to Beauty for teaching me that She comes in many, many, many ways, and that the world would be a better place if we looked into the world, looking for Beauty.
May your day be a day filled, abundantly, richly, justly with Beauty. And – what is Beauty to you?