Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Time for Beauty

Blessed are they
who see beautiful things in humble places
where other people
see nothing.

~ Camille Pissarro

When we choose to live a life engaged  in the work of social justice and peace we expose ourselves daily to the deepest, darkest sorrows of humanity.  We also spend hours planning, organizing and building community, only to find that our heartfelt effort has fallen short of our expectations.  Burnout is often the result.  In the latter case we must constantly remind ourselves that our only duty is to do what we feel called to do and not hold tightly to expectations.  If our effort reaches only one other person, it was a worthwhile effort.  We can never truly know how our actions will affect change.  But if we choose to do nothing, we know without doubt that nothing is exactly what will happen.  But how, in the first case, can we take in with our senses so much suffering without ourselves sinking into despair by the sheer magnitude of the pain?  We must take time for beauty.

We don't need to run to the museum or opera each week to take in the beauty of life.  Beauty can be found in the most humble of settings.  Dorothy Day, caring and feeding the homeless in the Bowery during the Depression years, always noticed any green surviving the industrial setting, or a certain cathedral slant of light reaching down between tall buildings.  As time permitted she'd retire to her room to listen to opera on a small transistor radio.  Likewise, when I feel the oppressive choking heartache of the world threatening my own stability, I either take a walk or bike ride by the river or I listen to Andrea Bocelli or I simply stop, breathe and find something, even if it's from my memory, that brings a smile.  As Thicht Nhat Hanh so wisely put, "Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful.”  A smile is a simple act and yet it can change not only your own level of joy, but also that of those around you.  We must always make an effort to smile.  I've discovered that it is truly contagious.  Such a simple yet meaningful gift.

My daughter's Grandmother once commented to me after spending time with other children that Alexa smiles so much more than the others.  Then I saw a light of recognition as she continued, "but you smile all the time too.  She must get that from you."  But this has not always been the case in my life.  I remember a time when I didn't smile.  Recovering from early childhood traumas and facing issues of sexual identity without any support pulled me under the current to an unreachable place.  Life became too overwhelming and I retreated from any joy or smile.  My husband even noted that it had been so long since he'd seen me smile.  This depression ultimately led to a nervous breakdown, divorce and a new start.  As I began my new journey on stronger legs, joy began to trickle into my life.  One morning as I sat watching a couple chickadees hop scotching around the yard I felt a dull pain in my cheeks.  I rubbed my face to discover that both my cheeks were quite tender to the touch.  It took a few moments for the cause to reveal itself.  I'd been smiling, a lot.  And I haven't stopped since.  As long as I keep smiling my heart continues to grow larger, making even more space for the sorrows of this world.  If you find that that world has robbed you of your smile, your joy, and you feel near the edge of burnout, please take time to seek out beauty.  Or you can visit me and I'll gladly share my smile with you.

Keep smiling for peace : )

1 comment:

Tom H. Hastings said...

Those chickadees will make my face hurt too. They are, for me, the source of the tweak of the old saying into the new: Feed two birds with one hand. My friend Lynn Larson, a gentle man and a preacher in the gun-and-chainsaw country of northern Wisconsin, taught me to show love and patience to the chickadees and they would eventually come perch on my hand and eat sunnies right out of it. They made my face sore! And you are so so right about how to avoid becoming toast to the cause. Where I used to teach, Northland College in northern Wisconsin, I'd grab Joe, a student leader, and kidnap him for a few hours and bring him to the best waterfalls to remind him why he was working so hard to save the world. What world? THIS world, Joe.