Beauty Heals

Photo by  Laura Skinner  

Photo by Laura Skinner 


I know I promised to write a part two from my last post on the vulgarity of our political space but wanted to share a piece I wrote from a challenge a friend of mine proposed -- to share a novel that impacted my life.  It supports my recent argument.

Here it is:  

My first book-impact happened in elementary school.  It was the first time a novel took me out of my own small world, living in Southern California.  And, it was the first time I fell in love with words. The book: "The Secret Garden," by Frances Hodgson Burnett. 

Its message to me then and now:  BEAUTY HEALS!   

So the story goes, in one sentence, that when the orphaned Mary Lennox (wounded in heart) and her newly discovered cousin, Collin (wounded in body), transform an equally broken garden into a place of beauty, they are both restored, body and soul. 

Many times in my life, after the death of my first husband and after a host of devastating losses from a number of causes over my life, finding beauty was key to recovery.  One of those times, Darrell and I were in England, staying at England's top horticulturalist’s home. In his yard, overlooking Wales, there was a flower blooming that grew no where else (since he genetically engineered it). No one else on the planet ever saw it before, EVER, except for us. It literally took our breaths away - it was like this incredible beauty was reserved just for us to enjoy. We felt somehow chosen and humbled. Transcendent. 

Then there was the time when the trajectory of our life abruptly changed. Very scary! Yet, we found ourselves in the beauty of nature and each other, retreating from all the ways the world uses to gather value to itself. It was incredible and profound; and while I will never say, "yippie, yippie" to the causes that led us to this wonderful-terrible place, I am forever grateful for who we became and the beauty that so naturally finds us now. 

My and Darrell's, and Mary Lennox's experiences in the “garden" are such a contrast to the grisly grind of daily life today, where hatefulness underlies the collective conversation and is nearly fitting. It’s common and natural to hit back and be punitive, to be filled with “what-about-isms” to avoid listening or being responsible, to use partial truths, to be susceptible to intrigues and conspiracies, and to justify the end by whatever means. These habits prevent us from finding beauty around us and in each other. These habits are defined in one word, by beauty's opposite: vulgarity. 

The Greeks had a terrific word for vulgarity: apeirokalia, which is the lack of experience in things beautiful.  One hundred years ago Frances Burnett knew this - the Greeks knew this. It must be because humans default to vulgarity when they can no longer see the beauty in others. I know my experiences are my own, but there is something about changing our focus to find beauty that disallows vulgarity and hate. I truly believe that if we spend more time in the "garden" and take as many folks with us as will go, the experience would make it difficult to form those vulgar thoughts. And, if they could form, we'd instantly know they didn't belong.