Beholding Beauty

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Beholding Beauty

Amanda Glendinning

What is beautiful? Asking myself that I have so many specific answers, some shallow and some deep: a well-made pair of shoes, flowers in the garden, snow on the mountains, fine art, my family and friends. I realize though that each of these are beautiful because they create emotion in me. Because of this, beauty can be found in anything, whether it be familiar or not, simple or complex, or whether it affects sight or the heart. The emotions drawn out are the beauty. In this sense, even absolutely ugly items can be beautiful to me. How can something be both beautiful and ugly? How can it be complex and simple? Through this though, I also realize that beauty is indefinable. Really, how can one define something that encompasses so much?

For Christmas this year, my grandfather gave us all a book he wrote, Unforgettable Memories of a Lucky Man. 338 pages long, a month later I'm still reading it. Normally I would tear through a book that is so full of interesting stories, but this book creates so much emotion in me. A work of art, not because of the writing style, but because of the love put into it, this is one of the best presents I have ever received. My grandfather is not an emotional or openly-affectionate man but in this book he shows his love for his family.

In World War II, my grandfather was a marine flying in a fighter squadron off the Bunker Hill, a carrier. On one mission, anti-aircraft went into his cockpit and his plane went down and sank in three seconds. In his official report, Grandpa wrote "The water was cold and the air colder...My raft leaked and my pals overhead tossed another. The water was very choppy and made me sick. I had food, but no appetite. Three hours later I saw a Jap plane above, looked like a Nick. I put a blue cloth over my face and pulled the deflated raft over me to hide. The enemy passed over. I had one small paddle, but luckily the wind was carrying me gradually off shore." During this time Grandpa began praying and making promises, which he has followed through on. One of those, which he has taught all of us, is to help the less fortunate in whatever way possible. My grandfather's ordeal made me realize how life is one of the most beautiful things. Not only that, but living it fully, including helping others. I have always lived with these mottos, but never realized that I considered them beautiful until reading this book.

Grandpa has also taught us the beauty of family. My family is my backbone, and my parents are always there, teaching me how to interact with others. They taught me to judge, not based on appearance but on personality and soul. Despite this, I like to joke with people that I would not be friends with them if I could not look at them. This statement is partially true. It is not that I would not be friends with someone based on appearance, but as usually one's personality is apparent through presentation to others, I judge on that. Smiles or shiny eyes, while physically attractive, also let me see what a person is made of. My extended family, especially my friends, is made up of people I have connected to because of beautiful personalities.

My little brother and I, while three years apart, were very close when we were younger. He looked up to me and I dragged him everywhere I went. Our friendship, a very close bond, was absolutely beautiful. Until I was about seven or eight, my friends and I would insist that Jon play with us, usually in some form of torturous make-believe. My parents have a number of pictures of Jonathan, which I love, in my ballet tutus. Apparently, he would run around saying, "I'm pretty. I'm pretty!" I probably scarred him for life, especially when I lost interest in having a shadow, but I cherish the beauty of our closeness.

My family goes to CO, where we annually go on an evening sleighride under the stars. Every year, Jon and I would wish on the shooting stars we would see, sharing one lucky wish with each other. Usually, we would wish for something fun, when I was seven and Jon was four, we both wished for one baby for each of us to play with. The reason I remember this was because less than a year later, my mom had twin girls! Whether it was magic or hope, my sisters' birth was one of the most beautiful things ever. Jon and I loved our babies and helped take care of them. Now, with my sisters twelve and Jon seventeen, I still cherish the beauty of my relationships with my siblings. Not only are they outwardly beautiful, the girls with model looks of long blonde hair and huge dark eyes, and Jon with his girl-attracting blue gaze, but Mackenzie, Jackie, and Jon also radiate inner beauty.

Expression, specifically expression through fashion, is a form of beauty that I find appealing. While many outfits do not match or do not fit a person, the fact that someone feels he can wear it shows his opinion of himself. Be it shy or outgoing, vain or calm, a self-opinion affects others opinions. In seventh grade I was at a new school. The first day, I was shy but I was meeting a number of people. I remember one girl who had lots of frizzy hair hiding her face and she looked down a lot. Introducing herself she said, "Hi, I'm Caitlin. You don't want to be my friend. I'm unpopular." Caitlin's appearance symbolized her attitude, which probably caused her unpopularity. Caitlin improved through school and as she did, she opened up more of her appearance, becoming more beautiful to those around her.

Physical beauty can also touch on emotion. I love being in a new location, but I also love photographs, of people and places that I know. Yet also, I find beauty in the unfamiliar. New places are full of discovery, whether they be with picturesque landscapes or cozy restaurants with artistic nooks. This past summer, my extended family traveled through Europe. While I was awestruck by the beauty of such grand places such as the Sistene Chapel and Santiago de Compostela, I also found myself drawn to the simple churches seen in Portugal. Each place had pieces of classical beauty but they also had unadorned pieces which I found exceptionally beautiful because of what they meant. At Santiago de Compostela, there was a small statue, which people put their hands on and nodded their heads to in order to pray. Watching my aunt and cousin do this hopeful ritual made the statue one of the most beautiful things I saw in Europe, even though it was small and worn down.

This month-long trip had so many different aspects of beauty that I photographed over a roll of film a day. Photography is one of my hobbies, and in it I find beauty. This is partially because a photograph can transform even something normally plain into something exotic. Over the past three and a half years at Bryn Mawr, I have taken about twelve albums of photographs of my friends, the school, and scenes I've seen. These photographs might not all be very good, but they mean something to me and in that they are beautiful.

In essence, beauty is what a person makes of it. One person may find a Degas ballerina sculpture beautiful, while another might just see it as a metallic girl. Another person might find a dog beautiful but her friend might be scared of it and thus see it as ugly. In the online survey, there was discussion about the jellyfish. I personally found that it was one of the most physically beautiful pictures in the whole set. While some people agreed with me, a number did not see it as beautiful. One woman tried to put it in perspective by looking at how the jellyfish would have been in another position. Another woman tried to look at the jellyfish from the photographer's perspective. To me, it was about simple beauty, and what objects drew out my emotion.

All in all, I find the most beautiful things are what affect me more deeply. They might create sadness or joy, but they will create some type of emotion. My family and friends, animals and landscapes, there is such a wide variety of beauty in the world it is hard to narrow down what I find beautiful. To define beauty in only one sense limits the possibilities of beauty itself, disallowing a beautiful potential. Beauty is found in so many things, but especially relations. Friends and family make life important and those relationships are what make everything else, even physical items, beautiful.

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