On Beauty 0

October 19, 2017

 

 

From where I’m sitting, October just got serious. Waves of storm fronts are sweeping down from the Gulf of Alaska and the puddles are toddler-splash-worthy on the driveway.  But the sudden shift to dark, wet, autumn weather feels a little harder to take this time. I’m not talking about the seasonal shift from summer to fall I went on about before. Apple cake fixed that right up.

I’m talking about this new, deeper, more inward shift, one that still happens every year with the rains, but feels…less stitched with hope now. Yesterday we learned that a Canadian music and culture icon died. Women everywhere are having to be brave in ways that make my heart ache. Environmental destruction seems to be so ever-present that it keeps jumping up the list of chronic stressors. I won’t go on.

I found myself staring at a spear of kale this morning. It was about to be chopped up for a soup, but the onion I’d diced had left its noxious fumes in the air and my eyes were watering, so I left the kitchen with the kale leaf in one hand and blinked away the sting by the feeble grey light of the back door.

This leaf. Dinosaur kale. Lacinato. Brassica oleracea sabellica.  Tall with a slightly sad tilt to the top. Rippling bubbles of chorophylled tissue. I held it up to the light. What a revelation, I thought. What a strange piece of matter this is.

How beautiful.

I wasn’t sure why. There was something about its absurdity, its prehistoric-ness, it’s unexpected tastiness, that made it striking. Which made me think: what is beauty? Yes, it’s personal, yes, it’s culturally seeded in us, yes, we are biologically drawn to it. But what if it’s something I never thought about before this moment with this piece of kale?

What if our perception of beauty is a kind of hope?

 

 

I thought about the reasons I found this stalk of a plant beautiful–this thing we’ve bred into existence. This leaf that looks diseased and genetically doomed. This combination of atoms from long ago stars that I will feed to my family later. There’s hope in all of that. A wish for the future.

Could that be part of why it’s beautiful to me? Its own improbable, magical existence?

Hope is something that’s been flagging in me lately. (See above non-inclusive list of this week’s terrible news.) The biggest hope machines I have are my kids, who haven’t yet learned to doubt or be cynical or let the world get them down. That’s part of their beauty too. So, hope makes me happier. It protects me from the darkness. When I think about how hope makes me feel–the warm upward tug of it in my body, it doesn’t feel very distinguishable from the experience of beauty. Maybe not at all. A field of red poppies. A puppy. A perfect story. A stack of pancakes. Beauty and hope. Hope and beauty. Maybe it’s better to talk about them both as part of the same thing. Maybe.

And the soup was delicious, by the way.

XO

Ria

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