Posted on September 14, 2017


I hadn’t thought much about “beauty” recently.

Like everyone else who watches or hears or reads the news, disasters seem to dominate the media.

We are bombarded by natural disasters, such as that historic monster hurricane, Harvey, that struck Texas and parts of Louisiana with awesome power, or human disasters like lunatic dictator Kim Jong-um, the “supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” He belongs in a Peter Sellers movie featuring every stereotypical and maniacal tyrant Peter could imagine with brilliant wit and humor. I especially love the North Korean generals, in an adoring line with medals from their shoulders to their ankles, all eyes fixed on the supreme leader, like some outer space visitor to his earthly drones.

Or perhaps the media is dumping on everyone, President Trump catching their vitriol with a frequency that finally begins to wear on us all. Everyone is offended by someone, and while the pundits roar at each other, from the New York Times to the Twitter freaks, their partisans take to the streets with bats and helmets to bash those they don’t like.

I love the news in this new category of offenses. I just read where the Los Angeles City Council voted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day as a municipal holiday. Maybe the indigenous people of California could have a mass human sacrifice, erect a tall pyramid, march up all those Italian Americans objecting to removing Columbus from history, and cut their hearts out, just like their immediate ancestors, the Nahua-speaking Aztecs, did in their capital city of Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City). Now that would bring in those who love a human spectacle, better than even a Southern lynching.

So where is beauty in all this? I guess the simple answer is “it’s not important,” when we are determining the future of the country, or of the earth, or even the universe for those few physicists whose brains reach far beyond our normal imaginations.

And, secondly, what is beauty? The Song of Songs in the Old Testament is a paean to beauty, words shared between lovers. “You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” (4:7) Some interpret the Song of Songs metaphorically, but it is a straight forward love story. Others object that God is never mentioned in the Song. My observation is that while God is everywhere, he is not—at least among us mere mortals—there in our minds every second of every day.

Beauty is, to invoke a common adage, in the eye of the beholder. It occurs every day; we have but to be receptive.

I can see beauty in a sunrise or sunset, or enjoy a creek bouncing along its bed of rocks, reminding me of the beauty of the earth. The mountain ranges of the Andes and the Rockies lift my eyes high into the sky, but the broad shoulders of the forest covered Smokies will also lift my spirits with their beauty and grandeur.

A small child, holding the hand of her mother or father, as they swing down the street is beautiful. There is love, devotion, trust, and fun in that gesture between parent and child.

Beauty is not relegated, limited, or proscribed by any of the normal ways we devise to divide us: rich and poor, race, gender, nationality, language, religion, or politics for starters.

The recent hurricane to hit the Texas coast produced some iconic images that I consider beautiful expressions of human compassion. The one of a soldier carrying a young woman in his arms through the flood waters out of harm’s way, and her small child wrapped in her own arms, caught both the plight of disaster and the beauty of human caring.

Beauty of course is also an industry, and I’m sure there is a base side to the industry. The overall goal is of course to sell beauty. It can be in fashion, as in a beautiful human being, usually young and in all their glory, or in something we create, from art to music to homes and all the artifacts of life that surround us.

The “beautiful” people look at us from glamourous magazine covers as we commoners “oh” and “ah” at diving cleavages and opulent homes the size of castles of old. Who lives this way?

Our vanity and commercialization often get in the way of beauty.

Turn off your phone and other noise some night and be still and look at the night sky. That’s beauty, and truly awesome too.

Published as “Our Vanity Often Gets in the Way of Beauty” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday September 10, 2017

Posted in: Life in America