A ray of sunshine was like a spotlight on one of the living room shelves. It glinted on both rivets on the binding of an old photo album. That was the cue to bring out the album to peruse it. It had been at least a year since I examined the vintage and antique photographs.
The collection consists of faded and yellowed snapshots of family and friends who no longer walk the Earth. Broadly speaking, their faces were objectively beautiful. My paternal great-aunts were stunning beauties as adolescents and young adults. Mom, my maternal grandmother, great-grandmothers, and great aunts were lovely ladies.
The same can be said about many of the men in the photos. My grandfathers, uncles and great uncles on both sides of the family have been classically handsome. Even my one remaining living uncle has been and still is quite handsome.
I closed the photo album and placed it back onto the shelf. Settling into the easy-chair, I pondered the topic of beauty.
Countless artists and photographers have captured beauty and beautiful people. Poets, authors, and philosophers have pondered beauty. We all have personal concepts of beauty. What about beauty pageants? These are glamorous, highly publicized events. Why aren’t there big-time male beauty pageants? There are body building contests for men and women. Why not have some televised beauty pageants for men, too?
We usually think of human beauty comprising of a well proportioned, handsome face and body. Those are the outward defining aspects. A truly beautiful woman or man possesses inner beauty as well. When we gaze upon the face of a very beautiful person, we witness care, passion, and love. The beauty of a woman or man doesn’t end with youth, it grows and glows more with each passing year.
“The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.”–Albert Einstein
Human beauty is only one type out of many other beauties. Obviously, nature provides beautiful animals, plants, and landscapes. We have the beauty of the daytime and nighttime skies along with dawn and twilight. There is philosophical and intellectual beauty of the sort that Einstein admired.
Beauty is the outward display of secrets and natural law. It can be instantly obvious or gradually revealed the longer we ponder it. Whatever form beauty takes, we are instinctively drawn towards it.
The existentialist Albert Camus wrote, “Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time.”
Camus reminds us of a conundrum regarding beauty. There is a sensible image of infinite beauty regardless of its type. We know we cannot truly own it as property. Certainly we can purchase a beautiful work of art or become acquainted with a beautiful person, but we cannot purchase or retain the precious nature of beauty itself for only ourselves.
Although we may capture images and concepts of beauty and depict it in the arts and sciences, we cannot monopolize it. Beauty is a subjective concept like happiness and justice. We cannot absolutely create beauty because the concept of beauty is timeless, beauty simply exists. We can only enable beauty in ourselves and others.
As we live out our lives, we will see and experience many beautiful things and people. There are so many of them that we often take them for granted. The sky, the flowers, the art, the people around us, our loved ones, and ourselves. Part of mindfulness is observing such beauty each and every moment.