Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.
—Annie Dillard, from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
When my daughter, Lillian, was younger, she was constantly asking us to read stories to her. Many nights I would sit with her in my recliner and read her a bed-time story. For several years, one of her favorite books for bed-time was Red Red Red by Valeri Gorbachev. The story is full of animals and the illustrations are very cute, but there is a wonderful message to be learned as well. (Yes, of course I did voices for each of the different characters!)
The story begins with a turtle rushing through town one afternoon. As he walks by his neighbors’ houses, they all ask him where he is going in such a hurry. He answers, “I am going to see something red, red, red,” and keeps on walking. Each of them are intrigued and they each decide to follow him.
By the time Turtle gets to where he is going, he has quite the entourage behind him (ten others, to be exact, which I happen to know because my daughter insisted on counting them on more than one occasion). They all climb to the top of a hill, and when they reach the top, Turtle’s friends ask him where the red, red, red is. They don’t see it. They can’t sense the beauty, even though they are right there with it.
“Look over there!” Turtle whispers, pointing toward the horizon. “The red, red, red… is coming!”
“Ahhh…” they all sigh, “it’s the sunset. It’s the beautiful, red sunset.”
Things like “Beauty” and “Truth” are concepts so over-used, so easily and carelessly thrown around in society and government and families that I sometimes wonder how often anyone really stops to think about what those words mean. We may battle back and forth on talk shows or in Starbucks about what Truth is, where it comes from, or what things are truly Beautiful, but how many of us take enough time to stop and simply experience Truth or sense the Beauty all around us? In Nature. In Action. In Stillness.
When I was a kid growing up in central Florida, I spent a lot of time driving with my family. Many of the roads we would travel on were old US Highways, which were flanked on either side by a seemingly-endless sea of trees with no barrier between where the road ended and the forest began. Pines and oaks and palmettos were everywhere and as thick as hair (click here to read more). As we drove, my dad and I would keep our eyes forward, always looking ahead for animals on the side of the road or weaving in and out of the cover of trees. Because my dad had spent so much time driving and looking over the years, he was often the first to spot any wildlife.
“Armadillo!” he’d say, excitedly pointing, and sure enough, there would be a giant rat with plate armor on its back.
“There’s some wild turkeys,” he’d remark while nodding his head. I’d turn just in time to see several dark shapes go by in a blur.
But a deer? Oh, a deer was the grand-prize sighting of them all. Dad would slow down the car and whisper, “Look, Jaybo!” while trying to stir my mom and sister, who were sleeping in the back seat. If there were no cars behind us, often we would stop and watch as several doe would, one at a time, gingerly cross the road we had been driving on. Once they were gone, we would slowly bring the car back up to speed and look at each other, smiling smiles that said, “Wow!”
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
—John Keats, from “Ode on a Grecian Urn”
Beauty and Truth are everywhere, all the time, whether or not we choose to go looking for them. Would most people recognize Beauty if they saw it? Could they understand Truth if it were in the same room with them? I think they could, if they just had someone nearby who cared enough to point it out and whisper, “Look over there!”
Be that person.