Two Essays: Four Year Olds and Beauty

D.J. - Rochester, New York
Entered on March 6, 2009
Age Group: 30 - 50

This I Believe

I believe in listening to 4 year olds.

In my clapped-out pick up truck, my daughter and I were rumbling down the dirt roads off of the ridge where I live. I was almost utterly preoccupied with the stressors

of my life at that time – recently separated, trying to earn tenure in my teaching job, trying to pay the bills. My daughter had been holding her own monologue in the back seat, looking out the window at the beaver ponds and serviceberry trees in bloom. I tune in just in time to hear her conclude, asking “…are there any questions?”

Trying to play catch up, I ask “questions about what?” My daughter replies, “Why God made so many different kinds of people.” Now my antennae were way up. And I asked her to tell me why again. She said, as if it was as plain as day, “So he would have someone to sing and dance with.”

I am not a church-going man. I’ve always felt closest to the creator out in creation. We say grace at supper, but that’s about the end it. So I was fascinated by the connections being made in the seat behind me. Finally I asked, “So, the differences in people, and in the rest of creation, are pleasing to God?” My daughter responded emphatically, “Oh YES, Daddy.”

. I have experienced with my children a magical time in their development when there is a clear connection between their hearts and their ability to verbalize succinctly what is in them. I pride myself on being present to my children, but was amazed at what I had almost missed.

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I believe in beauty.

The older I get, the less and less I can say to be absolutely true. Like that Zuni saying, “There are no truths, only stories.” But one of the things in which I have absolute faith is beauty. I have come to find that beauty surrounds us, weather I am aware or not, always available, weather I can see it or not, even in the smallest things. Just the knowledge that beauty exists, beyond myself, in no need of me to create, seek, find, purchase, or earn, is a comfort to me. Perhaps because I do not have to do any of these things, I’ve come to believe that beauty exists outside myself, though I recognize it from an interior response. I believe beauty is eternal and ever-present.

Sometimes I seem to experience beauty most keenly during times if crises. I’ve never told anyone this, but I remember the first time I felt its power to console. It was 1986. I was broke, underemployed, and felt utterly alone in the world. I couldn’t bear to go home to my chilly cottage, felt stoved in, and needed to collect myself before being social. I parked along First Encounter Beach on Cape Cod near where I was living, just as the sun was setting across Massachusetts Bay. The slanting light streamed in through the windshield, and in my empty sense of self, with my heart feeling flayed open, I didn’t just see the light, I felt it pour into and through me. I felt, right then, some powerful knowing about the existence of beauty.

On the way home I began to think about suffering, and how it was that I was able to see that light, that sunset, as if for the first time. I’d felt so awful. What part of me was cracked open that the light could affect me so? I was reminded of Coleridge’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, when the main character “blesses the snakes unawares,” or times when my sister told me that suffering can make a hollow vessel inside of us that gives us the capacity for empathy and joy. To that, I would add the capacity to appreciate beauty. I believe that beauty can act on me, as a salve to my soul.