I believe that the world is full of beauty, yet no dimension so beautiful as its myriad of souls. If a man is not afraid of sounding somewhat wordy, he might assert that the universe is supremely cosmic, displaying layers upon exquisite layers. The black expanse of space offers a perfect canvas within which some supreme artist scatters, perhaps solely for our eyes, specks of real light from titanic explosions. One is drawn into the prayer of the eagle who peacefully soars on invisible currents, against fat, white, marshmallow clouds, against aqua blue dome. One is even disarrayed and dazzled by the profound diversity of living animal and other earthly forms. Yet even the eye, that finest and very element of creation which enables us to absorb its great beauty, can be clouded—in more than one way.
In adolescence one day I had an encounter. On the streets of New York I experienced ground zero. A homeless man approached me and said, “Excuse me, sir, but can you spare a dollar?” I was unaccustomed to being called sir, having only, as my grandma teased, peach fuzz to show for my manhood, so he somewhat awakened me. He twisted his face in what seemed a feigned anguish, perhaps intending to convey hunger and exhaustion, but to me, managing only to portray himself as another junkie, another wasted life, so I hit the snooze button and rolled over. In the same motion in which he approached me I maneuvered around him and left him, as the old adage goes, out of sight and out of mind. But somewhere in my deeper recesses, as an early morning dream which haunts for unseen reasons, something pulled back. My mustard seed conscience perhaps desired to strike, like the pebbles I hurled through my sling shot in boyhood at the Brooklyn squirrels, but the elastic snapped. At that time I did not believe.
In young adulthood I had another encounter. Lost in thought and thoughtfulness one day, an old man became impatient with me and pushed me out of his path as I lingered too long outside a restaurant, forgetting to go in. In me burned the energy of lean youth, keen and warm, as I felt in his push the spent vigor of age which nevertheless moved me, half willing as I were. This contradiction managed to awake me again, as I cast upon him an inwardly curious though perhaps outwardly puzzled gaze. Rather than returning to sleep by immediately dismissing him as but another old man, calcified in his life’s vices as most rather than enlivened in the virtues which ought to accompany age, I heard, this time, a peculiar inner voice. “Couldn’t it be,” it asked, “that in the midst of this man’s ignobility, that behind the mire of his unbecoming temper, rests, nevertheless, a splendid soul?” But that day I could not stay awake, so after lunch I carried on to the New York Botanical Gardens where I often sought escape, to dreamily gaze at beautiful things in an otherwise ugly city.
My awakening, however, came that night as I physically slept. “Son,” it addressed me, “I am calling you to peer behind contradictions, to seek out jewels where you might see a garbage heap. Why do you avert your eyes from these my greatest creations?” So that morning after, I was doubly and fully awake, and now I believe. I believe that just as one might appreciate the beauty of the material cosmos, from the heavenly array of nebulae, stars, and other bodies, to the earthy display of mountains, waters, and living forms, so might one also come to appreciate the beauty of the other, one’s ordinary brethren as extraordinary light. This I believe.
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