March 25, 2024

I’ve been thinking about beauty a lot these days and the need for it in our lives. As I write this, I’m watching the flames in a wood burning stove as they dance and flicker, putting me into an almost catatonic state. Chacha, our retired sled dog sighs and adjusts herself into an ever increasingly comfortable position on the sofa next to me. I’m struck by the beauty of her, this gorgeous retired athlete who still sports the body of a much younger canine.

We just returned from a short hike that would not make it in the top 10 most beautiful hikes. Today is cold, gray, blustery and the trail was covered with ice that had to be gingerly navigated around. Chacha doesn’t have the fear and trepidation I have surrounding ice, so her herding instincts of constantly running back to check on her two legged friends was most likely quite irritating for her. I was, however, struck by the allure of her as she stood many yards ahead of me, looking back to make sure that I was still following her.

I suppose I should clarify that I’m not speaking of the cosmetic industry or the beauty make up tutorials, although that is a sort of beauty all of its own. I’m thinking more about the beauty that we see in our lives everyday and the need to acknowledge and appreciate it.

I’m reminded of when I first moved to rural Japan in the late 1980’s. Japanese restrooms in this area were not exactly the place where one would go to find something of beauty. This was pre-fancy bidet toilet Japan. At this time, they were frequently pit toilets with maybe a sink and cold water, and maybe not. Strictly functional and not a place for lingering.

I had been traveling and dreading the need to find a restroom. When I did find one, it was being cleaned which meant I’d have to either wait, or wander somewhere else. I found it interesting that the person cleaning the restroom was a very large male. Usually, these cleaning jobs were done by very small older women who were like their patrons, in and out in a hurry. But in this circumstance, the rather large and not old man cleaning the bathrooms was first surprised that he was exiting the restroom to not only see someone waiting, but a tall foreign woman at that. He smiled, bowed, told me that the bathroom was in pristine shape but that I needed to wait just one more moment. He then turned to his cleaning cart, gently removed a single carnation from a small bucket of water and went back into the restroom. When he came back out, he again bowed, smiled, and told me it was all ready for me, giving me very clear gestures that I could now enter the restroom. I was so flabbergasted all I could do was awkwardly say thank you, and step inside. The limited lighting cast an eerie glow, but it had a sink with a cold water tap, no sign of soap or towels. I entered the stall, and to my surprise, on the back wall of the stall was a test tube that was attached to the wall by a twisted wire, which contained one beautiful red carnation. The normal stench of the restroom had been quelled a bit by cleaning, so I stood and admired that flower; so humbled by the man who went about his day cleaning bathrooms and adding something of beauty to each and every one of them.

In these days of increasing stress and anxiety regarding too many problems that are too big for me to understand or solve, I reflect on two quotes by two very wise women. Toni Morrison stated, “At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough.” and Clara Schumann said, “Why hurry over beautiful things? Why not linger and enjoy them?”

Perhaps beauty gives us hope through the stark contrast between the otherwise ugly and mundane, here is something that shows itself and jolts us enough to acknowledge and admire its very presence. While walking the other day, I had to stop and swivel to locate the source of the most glorious sound. Above my head, in the late winter bare brown branches, a vibrant red cardinal was singing his heart out, the traffic noise diminished in his captivating song. I wished that I spoke cardinal so that I could understand the tender feelings he was conveying. That gorgeous singing scarlet bird gave me hope that winter is on its way out and spring is coming. Perhaps I just need to pay more attention to those signs of beauty that give me hope to keep going and loving in a world that often isn’t particularly kind.

So, I try to take the advice of Toni and Clara, to linger over the beautiful things in life because they are, enough.