With so much dour news emanating from The Swamp, I’ve found little reason to be optimistic and hopeful recently, and I always find I have to make a concerted effort to cling to my belief life is beautiful, when in fact life looks downright ugly.
This immediately brings me to a subject some object to, which is that our sense of beauty tends to be very subjective, and downright fickle. It also is quite personal. I recall, as a tender adolescent, being somewhat astonished by how my face looked pretty good in the mirror on some days, but on others looked ghastly. As a young scientist I understood it was the same face. How could it appear so different, and in some ways completely opposite?
Usually it seemed to involve whether I felt loved or not. If Nancy (or Betsy or Debby) smiled at me in the high school hallways, the face in the mirror looked handsome and debonair, but if the same female sulked, the face in the mirror was blotched by acne and had a vile, shit-eating smile. It was absurd, and on some deep level I recognized the absurdity. My boyhood diary at one point sardonically comments, “I looked bad in the mirror this morning. What’s it mean, Froid?” (I did not know how to spell “Freud”.)
Yet the passage of a half century hasn’t changed things all that much. When you are smiled at, you feel beautiful, and in fact are beautiful. You become radiant. People want to draw close to you. But when you are frowned at, you become depressed and neurotic, and people avoid you like the plague or corona virus. As Ella Willcox noted in her 1887 poem “Solitude”, and O Henry noted again in 1907, “When you laugh, the world laughs with you. Weep, and you weep alone.”
In a better world we might show more sympathy, and obey the more ancient Roman proverb which ended, “Weep, and the world weeps with you.” But, sadly, a great deal of emphasis in the modern world involves whether you are accepted as politically correct, or cancelled by Cancel Culture; whether you appear on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter with lots of “likes”, or have been censored and banned from such platforms. If you take all this nonsense too seriously it can involve how you look in the mirror. If a collection of idiots and Karens call you praiseworthy, you appear charming and lovable, but if the same idiots and Karens disdain you, the mirror states you are deplorable, irredeemable, and a bitter clinger.
I knew this was nonsense at age sixteen, and nothing that has passed in the last fifty years has changed my mind in the slightest. I have always been a counter-snob to all snobbery. People who we now scoff at as “virtue signaling” were mocked fifty years ago as “slaves to status symbols.” For there has always been a deeper awareness that true beauty is not a shallow and superficial thing. True beauty is the reflection of Truth, and Love.
That word “Love” is crucial. As we age we discovered that Nancy (or Betsy or Debby) was not God. (I assume women discover the same thing about men.) We move on to discovering that owning a 1966 Mustang is not love. And so on and so forth. In fact, if we truly progress spiritually, we pretty much call all status symbols garbage, all positions of fame and power garbage, all political correctness garbage, and tell Hollywood, psychologists, and all bossy law-makers to go get screwed, for there is only one true author of Love, and that is God.
But if we fail to make such rapid spiritual progress, (and most of us fail), then we tend to get hooked on some worldly thing that makes us feel beautiful. Maybe it is heroin. When we take it we feel beautiful, and are actually attractive when high, so people want to draw closer to us, but later, when withdrawal sets in, everyone makes themselves scarce. Or maybe our hook is gambling, and when winning we feel beautiful, and walk with a woman on either arm, but when losing our complexation becomes green and everyone avoids us. Or maybe our hook is winning elections or writing hit records or appearing in blockbuster movies, and success makes us feel beautiful, but there is a down side as well. But for most the hook is less extravagant, and is more modest, the simple successes of a good marriage or a small business, but here too there is a down side. The good marriage will be wrecked, because one spouse will die. Must this make what was beautiful become ugly? In like manner the owner of the best small business, which succeeds with amazing compassion for both employees and customers, faces mortality, for he or she too must die. Does that make what was beautiful ugly?
No. I asserted this at age sixteen and I assert it at age sixty-eight. Beauty is beautiful. It doesn’t matter if you are a heroin-addicted, male whore of a Swamp politician who will throw you under the bus tomorrow, the glimpse of beauty you saw in your rise and fall was the real deal. Beauty is beautiful.
Ugly is ugly because it in some way denies the fact beauty is beautiful. However this is foolish. It is like shadows denying they exist because of light, and instead attempting to congregate and plot ways to attack the light, ignoring a glaring fact: The moment shadows step from the shadows to attack the light, they cease to exist.
What I just wrote was profound, if I do say so myself, but I confess it is not obvious, at this moment in the history of the United States. Currently the shadows are gathering, but haven’t yet fully stepped out to attack the light. Ugly is ugly, at the moment.
With what is ugly currently seeming triumphant, I seem to have chosen the wrong side. I haven’t. I know beauty will win, in the end.
But, in the meantime, a fellow like me has to run a small business and be patriarch of a small family, midst a global ugliness, and I can’t expect to see much beauty in my day-to-day dealings. Yet I crave beauty. I need to inhale some beauty, if I am expected to exhale any in my day-today dealings.
In order to inhale beauty in an ugly world, I do what I did in school in 1959. I look out the window, and not at the black board. I remove my nose from the grindstone and sniff the roses. I shut off the news and walk out into the view.
God made that view for us to enjoy, and even in rotton weather there is usually something beautiful to see, if you look for it. In the springtime it becomes easier. People refer to it as “communing with nature.” I was describing it in the comments of a recent post:
I was out with the children at my Childcare and watched a bald eagle battle the north winds. I get a thrill seeing eagles, for there were no bald eagles to be seen around here the first sixty years of my life, but the kids are rather ho-hum about such occurrences, for eagles are just an everyday bird to them.
Today the eagle was pretending to fish but the ducks knew he (or she) will eat a duck if need be, so they were zinging all over the place as he (or she) innocently looked for trout. But the chaos of thirty ducks and lone eagle was occurring in a thirty mile an hour gale from the north. What amazed me was that the birds behaved as if the wind was a minor matter, like the “temperature at game time” for baseball players.
A few weeks back I got a crick in my neck watching an eagle battle his (or her) way upwind in a fifty-mile-an-hour gale. At first I thought he was being battered, because he seemed staggered, lowering first one shoulder and then the other, like a boxer getting pummeled. But then I noticed he wasn’t being beaten backwards. In fact he was making remarkable progress, moving north at around fifteen miles an hour despite the winds whooshing south at fifty. It seemed that (and I’m guessing) that when he lowered first one shoulder and then another he (or she) was expertly tacking upwind with a swiftness and dexterity all skippers of all sailboats would envy.
One might wonder if birds are superior to humans, considering the remarkable things they do. They do what they do without a college education, utilizing some thing we do not understand, but pretend we understand by calling it “instinct”.
Considering a lone eagle can tack upwind better than a billionaire with an expert crew of twenty on the most lavish yacht can, one might wonder what is the use of human endeavor. We cannot even match a bird.
However there is an equivalent of instinct in birds, which does occur in mortal humans. It is something we do not understand, but pretend we understand by calling it “intuition.”
It has occurred to me that when I am feeling uglified by the world, and go out for a walk and wind up feeling beautiful, it is because I have been loved. When “communing with nature” my intuition (whatever that is) is communing with the Creator, and the Creator doesn’t want us miserable, and will rain love down upon us if we only allow it.
Thinking along these lines got me a little cross-eyed the other morning. It is a bit humbling to go for a walk and think the Creator is right there. I couldn’t quite tell if I felt tiny or enormous. But I was feeling loved, as the north winds had ceased and the sunshine was kindly. It occurred to me the spring birds would have come out from hiding, with the wind ceasing, and I should listen for harmony.
Rather than spring birds, a couple of winter chickadees came flitting out to serenade me. They are tiny birds, and very perishable in cold winds, yet they don’t fly south and survive extreme cold by avoiding wind, and becoming balls of fluff in calm places. You will never see them at a feeder in a cold wind, and even in a light breeze they will always face upwind, to keep the chill from getting under their feathers. But this morning was mild, and with winter behind them they were attending to some sort of territorial discussion, singing their “spring soon” call back and forth at each other. It seemed a bit like dueling banjos.
The call is two notes, descending, but these two birds were not agreeing on what key to sing in. The first sung an A followed by an F, and the second sung a G-sharp followed by an E. I was listening to the sequence of notes, telling God it was sweet and wondering if I could write a song with that sequence in it, when I noticed their calls were coming closer together. I knew what was coming, and with a sense of dread awaited hearing A sung with G-sharp, followed by F sung with E. They did it, and the discord made my fillings hurt. Perhaps they noticed my pained expression, for they only sung the discord twice before flitting away. I looked up at the sky and said, “Oh Lord; that was absolutely horrible!”
Then I burst out laughing, for it really did seem a great joke: A couple of chickadees attempting to be as ugly as Washington D.C. I laughed so hard I slapped my knee, but then I noticed a lady coming down the road walking her dog.
I set my lip. One needs to be cautious, when communing with nature in public.