Recently, my decades long optimism has been challenged so often and so soundly that it wavers. I believe in Beauty. I believe in, and endeavor to live, the Beautiful Life. A Life whose enemies exist on a continuum from tedium to the vast potential for humans to act disgustingly.
These days, my life is full of both.
Though I have always thought myself the eternal optimist, my curmudgeonly impulses are fighting for the headline spot at the top of the bill. I find myself being a “hater” of so many things. Social media, advertising, politics, bad espresso – which is too easy to find. And I can easily make sport of telling you why each one is single-handedly responsible for the reprehensible state of our world at large.
Many people with the best intentions have no understanding of the information they consume with such reckless abandon. This is not, in fact, the information age, as it was so dreamily touted to me almost 30 years ago. It is the psycho-advertising age. It is the requiem-for-privacy age. It is the handful-of-crazies-with-enough-wealth-to-be-truly-dangerous age. It seems there are more reasons to despair than to rejoice. And that’s coming from an avowed optimist.
But my life is also full of Beauty.
Somehow, I have gathered around me an unmatched group of friends. People for whom I would truly consider taking a bullet. A richness of relationships that makes me feel like I am in the emotional 1%. It is a cultivated garden. Something that I spend a lot of time curating. Pruning the poison. Watering the most beautiful flowers.
I also surround myself with things I find Beautiful. For a few of them, their value would go undisputed. But for much of my collection, say my “harem” of books, their Beauty is mostly personal and the items probably wouldn’t fetch much at auction. But, to me, they are as Beautiful and valuable to my existence as my relationships.
And then there is my collection of things I cannot own, except in memory. Moments, experiences, places. I have a voracious appetite for things of this nature. A painting in a museum that makes me cry. A stroll through a foreign country while pondering my life from the perspective of another culture’s history. Shooting Malört with dear friends at a blues club I should have discovered a decade ago. Intentionally discovering something new about my wife as often as I can.
Beauty is all around us, but it doesn’t assert itself. At least not as brutishly as the other myriad stimuli vying for our attention like a hammer to the teeth. To notice it, we must be intentional. But that is only the first step. The real challenge is to allow It to provoke us to resonance. To let It seep into our skin and find root in our emotional bones. To be healed by It from the cancerous tedium of a life lived reactively and the jarringly discordant messages of a world trying to persuade us to purchase by means of convincing us we’re shit. Life is a strain on our structure, yet Beauty can steel us.
For advertising, politics and religion (are they really that different) to work, one must be convinced of one’s lack. Unless you are indoctrinated with your supreme deficiency you have no reason to invest every waking hour, every penny, every social media argument in whatever scheme is trying to bleed you.
Let me be clear. We need not lack. But we are incomplete. These are not the same. As long as we are alive we will not be complete. Our experience is ongoing. This incompleteness is what you feel in your deepest parts and it isn’t a bad thing. It is a drive that should stir you. But very persuasive people try to assuage their own insecurities by turning that feeling against you by way of corrupted schemes masquerading as solutions.
We must recognize our incompleteness for what it is and endeavor to write the story of our lives about Beautiful experiences with the most Beautiful words. We are part of a larger universe. One whose incompleteness is more vast than our own. Its path, like ours, is not linear. It is like wandering in a garden, revisiting old things, finding new ones. We must cultivate this garden as an expression of our human Poetry. Our ability, and mandate, to create. The Beautiful Life is about what we create. Chaos or Beauty. The former is easy. And prevalent. Its potential energy is always ready to become kinetic. The latter is more difficult. And esoteric. It hides, though often in plain sight. Yet resonating with It infuses one with an affluence of energy that can not leave you unchanged.