Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What IS Beauty?

I've been prowling around the internet, watching some YouTube videos, and contemplating beauty.  What IS beauty?  Some say we know it when we see it.  I think we know it when we feel it.

Many years ago I had an experience of beauty that changed me.  I was in the USSR ... it was 1990 so it was still the USSR even though the cracks were showing.  I was there as part of an international SuperCamp  bringing teenagers from the USSR and the USA together for two weeks of learning.  The camp was just outside Moscow and we spent the first days touring and meeting our hosts.  What I noticed first, after we left Red Square, was how utterly ugly the city was.  Boxy grey concrete apartment buildings dominated the views and everywhere you looked, everything you saw, was a testament to function over form ... a crumbling function over form.

The camp was housed on a college campus that was just as grey and crumbling as the city.  1990 was a difficult time in Moscow.  Grocery stores were empty, literally empty with nothing on the shelves or racks.  Hours-long lines for a loaf of bread were daily occurrences and  impromptu swap meets formed along roadsides as people tried to find parts for their cars.  Bleak was a word we repeated frequently although the people we met were incredibly kind and generous.  From them we learned the art of "gifting," presenting people with small presents on almost every occasion.  And, one of my most memorable moments was when a group of us spent an evening in the tiny living room of one of the instructors.  We talked and sang and shared a tiny dish of chocolates and I felt the true warmth of abundance.

One morning, mid-way through our time there, I took a walk through a birch forest that was next to the campus.  The forest was summer green and luscious and the birch trees stood slim and white, punctuated with black hash marks.  Suddenly I found tears streaming down my face and realized it was the sheer beauty of that forest that was overwhelming me. I'm sure part of the reaction was because of the extreme contrast between the harsh ugliness of Moscow and the perfect beauty of the forest but I suddenly understood that beauty is something we feel.

I don't weep for beauty every day.  Life gets in the way.  I live in a place where beauty is commonplace.  And, I don't slow down enough to let the feeling of beauty sink into my cells and rise into my consciousness.  Today I will walk with Beauty and see where she takes me.

Here is the first part of a YouTube series on Beauty that is very engaging:


  1. Greg WOlfe has published a new book "Beauty Will Save the World". You might enjoy it. It's a collection of his essays.

  2. Thanks Maureen ... skipping off to amazon right now!

  3. Oh my. Now I'm hooked. but I can't watch the rest now! I'll be back for more beauty.