I’ve often contemplated the function of beauty. In my past musings, I have dreamed beauty away as inconsequential, a passing fancy, a temporary state that exists simply as a basis of initial attraction. I didn’t want to believe in the meaning of beauty, because to say that it has purpose, and then to admit that it has gone, is to say that the motivation fades as well. I want my love to be like Shakespeare envisioned, one whose strength does not diminish, though “rosy lips and cheeks within [Time’s] bending sickle’s compass come”. If love, and our motivation to both give and receive it, is based mostly on aesthetics, then it can’t stand the test of time.
I had this friend who was an artist to some degree. He talked about the perfect girl as being someone who might not be exactly perfect, but who would be so beautiful that any of her imperfections could be forgiven. I am not sure if that is too tall of an order to fill. Our debate on this led to no agreed upon conclusions, and when our friendship took a walk, I wanted to continue to stand on my side of the fence about it.
That was some years ago, and I was still convinced of my stance, up until the other night. I was running at night in my new neighborhood, something I have been doing regularly now, although not nearly enough to stop the midlife growth of girth. I looked up from the sidewalk and a sight caught my breath in my throat, and caused a feeling inside me. A want, a desire, an exultant joy, an imagined bliss. It was no mere mortal that turned my eye, but the sight of the water falling across the water from the fountain in the middle of a lake across the street, the little bridge that crossed into a neighborhood with landscape lights shining on well designed front yard gardens and smartly painted front doors.
I have been getting to know that area in nighttime explorations, and I know that inside those streets, there is a little misty hill that has a strange path leading up to a sundial with uniquely carved stones in it. I love to go to this place, but I only allow myself the pleasure as a reward for working really hard on my tedious little two mile route around the house. Mostly because when I go out there, I lose track of time, and spend longer than I have on a weeknight wandering past the huge houses in the dark, houses with art delicately balanced on high vaulted walls that can be seen from tall windows from the street.
And I know now, I know when I see this view of the lake and the bridge from this vantage point on my weekday route, I know the true function of beauty. And I see and hear examples to fit my new theory all over the place.
It is to inspire.
And perhaps my friend was right, we can’t remove beauty from the equation. And sometimes she is the reason why we fight. Ask Helen of Troy, whose alleged beauty was the catalyst for wars and “launched a thousand ships”. But the other day I was watching, for not the first time, Ken Burn’s “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”, and it made me think of how compelling natural beauty is, and how much it drives our desire to protect it as well.
When we see a beautiful landscape stretched out in front of us, we are often overwhelmed with awe. The thought of some of these places disappearing under the wave of human and industrial expansion is frightening. There are many heroes I would like to highlight later who let this beauty, and the diversity inherent in it, be enough to drive them to continue to fight for them their whole lives.
Beauty in our surroundings is much like beauty in a human form. It compels us to protect it, move to keep it around, and forgive its harshness and imperfections.