I believe in beauty. Not the type that wins pageants or requires Photo-Shopping or that threatens the rest of us with an ultimatum (aspire or else!), but the sort that actually stops the world from spinning for a fraction of a second. I have happened upon this kind of beauty when I walk the dog on autumn days and come across the sugar maple at the corner. In the turn of season, that tree catches fire—brilliant shades of persimmon, lemon and amber—so bright it seems lit from the inside. I don’t realize I’ve been standing still, looking up in awe, until the tug of the leash signals that there’s no more to sniff or mark or roll in and it’s time to move on.
I have found heart-stopping beauty in the slivers of silver lining that gild this economic recession, slivers in which people have taken to canning applesauce and feeding neighbors and accepting salary cutbacks so none of their coworkers are laid off. I’ve seen people donate more, not less, even as their incomes are pinched and kneecapped. I’ve watched painters keep painting and writers keep writing, watched people dream into a future that’s never been less certain.
I witnessed heartbreaking beauty in the last two years of my father’s life, as he lived under the cloud of a terminal diagnosis that rolled in like sky blackening before a summer thunderstorm, light to dark in the blink of an eye, wind coming up and nowhere to take cover. But my dad lived each one of those shadowed days, really lived them, fiercely and filled with an unslakeable thirst for the singular pleasure of existing. I wept sometimes, not just at the impending loss of him, but at the fullness of his presence.
Life doesn’t come without death, brilliance is part of ushering in demise. I believe that one of life’s greatest lessons is that if you can hold two opposing ideas in your head at the same time, truly incompatible and opposing ideas, you will find, in the space between them, that breathtaking beauty that both stills your heart and makes it beat.