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Blue Sky

Where's Beauty?: Everyday Magic, Day 1099

An iris last week

I've increasingly realized how I'm on the lookout for beauty most of the time -- the gaze of my dog Moxie when she raises her head from a nap to ask if I need anything, the sheen on the underside of Osage orange leaves in sun and wind, the feel of my flannel-covered pillow when I flip it over to its cooler side.

Like many of us, I've been a beauty hound much of my life. I parked myself for long stretches in the middle of the night at my Brooklyn as a kid, watching the clouds gauze over the moon. I sat for hours on the Jersey shore enthralled with the sound of waves and the spray of salt water. I walked happily down sunrising streets in Columbia, Missouri, having just finished my night shift at the college newsletter printing press. I've sat on this porch south of Lawrence, Kansas, seemingly forever, beholding the beauty of sky and land in its constantly-shifting formations.

God and Goddess knows, there's so much ugliness -- war, poverty, racism, transphobia, misogyny, greed, and more -- in this world, and watching a monarch butterfly chasing a hummingbird doesn't solve intransigent problems or heal deeply-life-changing losses. 

Massachusetts Street in Lawrence, KS in winter

At the same time, there's so much beauty we can taste, touch, see, hear, feel, and otherwise discern in the bones of what we know, especially regarding the beautiful ways we can be present for each other. Some of my most luminous moments included a dear one listening to my pain or being there to hold a grieving friend. I've witnessed the beauty of holding my father's knee, feeling the pulse until it stopped, as well as the beauty of watching my husband hold our just-born youngest son against his bare chest in the hot delivery room.

There's also the beauty of small gestures: my father-in-law was a connoisseur of this, spending his retirement years going grocery store to store with the intention of making a check-out clerk smile. Crossing a street the other day, a stranger smiled at me, her whole face lighting up as she gathered her hair into a quick ponytail. Right now, the hackberry butterflies, thousands of close friends who burst on the scene for a few short weeks, have appeared out of nowhere to alight on my shoulder and hand, opening and closing their wings slowly. Every gesture, slip of motion, wave of cicada song from the woods, tilt of light beyond cloud cover is an invitation.

Each morning I step outside no matter the weather for a few seconds just to take in the sky, the dew or frost on the brome field and old swing set, the wind in the close-up or distant cedars bending or holding their breath. When I'm living right, I aim for a short beauty walk, even just a block down a side street in town to catch the onset of peonies or first maple scout leaves turning red. "An hour of beauty a day" was Dorothy Stafford's (wife of poet William and son of poet Kim) recipe for a good life.

Natalie and our late cat, Sidney Iowa

Even looking backwards, especially looking backwards, is a great way to behold beauty. The other night, while cleaning up my office/extra bedroom/sewing room/art space (yup, all one room), I came across the baby books for my three children. In short order, I found myself sitting on the floor for an hour, immersed in that intensive and non-stop beauty of young children and their young, exhausted parents

at each turn of a page. Cards, photos, and notes reminded me -- even through a poem my late father wrote for our oldest son when turned two -- how much our kids and we were and are loved. The handwriting -- whether script or block letters -- from so many dead family members and friends glowed with new meaning. How beautiful it was and is even if it was too overwhelming in real life to know this.

Tall pines in Arkansas

J. Ruth Gendler, who wrote an amazing book,  Notes on the Need for Beauty: An Intimate Look at Essential Quality, writes: “What would the world be like if we were more curious about light and less afraid to admit our own luminosity? How would our sense of beauty expand if we actively inspired each other to bring forward the light we each carry?” What would it be and how could we be if we keep expanding our search for beauty in such ways?

Meanwhile, I'm reminding myself how beauty has gotten me through so often when little else would and how it's as readily available as the air, something we can breathe in when we let ourselves because it's everywhere.

Bonus posts: some other things I've written about beauty:

This is an expanded post from my June 2024 newsletter. You can sign up here.

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