April 15, 2008

Experiencing Beauty

Back in my early college days, I had a number of majors, including physics and computer science. Imagine my dismay when I found that there was no way of avoiding the art classes on the way to getting my degree. The art class was actually an epiphany for me, opening me up to a new way of thinking about the world -- and eventually turning me away from the deterministic scientific method, and sending me into the more qualitative and subjective world.

One of the professors made the point that in drawing, you don't ever want to erase things... that the errant strokes of your drawing add to the character of your subject. She made the point that if you really need a literal representation of your subject, you should take up photography... but in drawing, the flaws were as much an integral part of the final piece as the strokes that were 'right'.

The point was not lost on me. If everything were perfect, whether in art or in life, it would all be so boring. Mother nature understands this all too well... even the most homely sprig of grass, as it pokes through the cracks of the sidewalk, reveals the beautiful greens of spring, and takes on a form that only that plant can have, determined both by its genetics and the environment. We'll often comment at how unsightly the grass is, but what we really mean is that the setting is unsightly. If we really stop to look at the grass, we see it's beauty revealed.

There are two lessons there... the first is that beauty is often hidden right before our eyes, and the second is that it is not the perfection that makes something beautiful, but rather, the flaws. In fact, it hardly makes sense to call those things flaws, when really they are the source of the beauty and wonder in the first place.

This past weekend I actually took some time to stop and really look at things. I made a concerted effort to set aside expectation and to just experience the things around me. I went to a little restaurant in a small town, and enjoyed the local fare. I watched birds as they wandered through the woods, setting up housekeeping for the spring. I wandered around in the rain, gathering dandelion greens to put in a soup. I went to a sports bar and visited with some new friends. I spent three hours driving down the interstate, starting in the center of one of America's premier cities, and ending in the seemingly flat and featureless heartland of the midwest. I hung out with a friend.

I thought I knew what I would find, but I was surprised, anyway. There was beauty and wonder in every moment of my weekend... and it was in places and forms I never could have anticipated.

What doesn't kill us makes us stronger... and coincidentally, more beautiful.

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