Beauty from the Eye of the Beholder

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Beauty from the Eye of the Beholder

Amy Martin

On this breathtakingly beautiful day, the world seems to be inching along. Everything is clean in a blanket of white that highlights the natural contours that are on this campus. Outside my window, each and every skinny, sinewy tree branch has been defined by snow. I love how delicate and fragile, yet strong and resilient the tiniest of branches looks. The old adage that beauty comes in many shapes and sizes is true. As I struggle to grasp how to put into words my experience with beauty, I've come to the conclusion that we can find the innately beautiful in all our experiences.

I strive to be a woman who can find beauty. I see it everywhere, in the ocean, in the concise design of an Eames chair, in Frida Kahlo's paintings, in my niece learning how to walk. My excitement with and enjoyment of that which I find beautiful ultimately ties back to a sense of wonder and of gratitude. Life can be incredibly depressing if you let it. The newspaper's headlines rarely give us a chance to see the beauty that is inherent in the world as we know it. It may seem simplistic or nave but when anything touches one of my senses or my heart or mind, it always feels like a little gift that reminds me of the goodness in life, the surprises that can change the entire feeling of a day.

Driving through the midnight tar of the night, ensconced in our blue van, we're singing loudly- goading each other to remember the words to songs plucked randomly from our conscious. Traveling in this air-conditioned bubble of laughter, I remember getting the chills and thanking God for my family. The beauty of that night has remained with me since because it captured an essence that I was so familiar with all my childhood, but never became fully conscious of until that moment. It was the first time that I recognized the ephemeral quality of joy. Those seconds were slipping through my hands, but I felt them so intensely they became concrete. It was such a beautiful night because I knew they were merely flimsy moments, disintegrating as soon as they strung together. What is ineffable is often the most beautiful because it emerges spontaneously, and remains a unique, individual memory of beauty.

The snippets of beauty bring an almost divine serenity to the chaotic and harsh world. One day walking into Grand Central after a particularly harried trip to New York, the main passageway reverberated with the deep tenor of a homeless man singing Bob Marley's "Redepemtion Song". That glimpse of musical and lyrical beauty became spiritual. It became the best kind of beautiful because it felt like I saw the light outside differently, everything was a little sharper and clearer. When I experience beauty, it refreshes my idea of being alive. It can be as simple as a warm shower when it is really needed, seeing how beads of water accumulate up and down my arm - those mere seconds are a sounding bell for me to not take my world for granted, to be of that moment. For me, there is the sense of the divinely beauty in both the appreciation of what is beautiful and the actual experience that then becomes beautiful in its own right.

The art and text that I find to be most beautiful are the ones that reflect these ideas of the divinely beautiful, the gratitude and wonder of the beautiful. They take the small occurrences that can be so easily overlooked and lead us to their beauty. Audre Lorde's poem "A Trip on the Staten Island Ferry" brings us to see the beauty in the mysteries of life - she writes "Every voyage is a journey". I've read this poem since fifth grade and every time I read it I get the chills from that line. That connection that an author can establish between themselves and their readers, universalizing life experiences that tie us humans to each other, even if we have nothing in common, is so beautiful. Reading the lines of Audre Lorde is just the same as being blown away by the paintings of Alice Neel. Although their art forms in and of themselves are beautiful, what is inherently beautiful about their works is how the thread of commonality they weave. We defined "cultured beauty" in class as the beauty we may find in Michangelo's Sistine Chapel, or Bach's music, or Shakespeare's prose, all things that we find beautiful because we are aware of the craftsmanship it took to create them. Additionally, the reason that we are drawn to examples of cultured beauty over and over again throughout time is their power to reflect the human experience within their works. Explicitly or implicitly, something about such works impacts our notions of living. Much like spontaneous beauty, they open us, if only for a short time, to a different way of seeing.

Despite all the objects, events or sights that open my eyes to their beauty daily, the epitome of beauty in my experience has always come from the relationship between two people. In her book "The Most Beautiful Place in the World" Ann Cameron writes, "Where you love somebody a whole lot and you know that person loves you, that's the most beautiful place in the world." Nothing in my life is more beautiful to me than my family and the close friends who have in turn become family.

My parents, Steven and Hildy Martin, are the definition of beautiful. Having been together almost twenty-five years, I am amazed that they still wake up together every morning and have things to say to one another. Yet, not only do they have things to say to one another, they are genuinely enthralled to be together my dad finds my mom to be have a better sense of humor than she really does, my mom thinks my dad at forty-seven, slightly balding and pot bellied is one of the handsomest men she knows. This manipulation of reality is how we experience beauty. Instead of finding the faults and flaws in everything that is set before us, we find what we want to see. We make lemonade out of life's proverbial lemons. There is beauty within the idea that instead of constantly searching for an ideal that does not exist; we find that ideal within our loved ones.

It is not only the dynamic between my parents that makes them beautiful to me. I laugh harder with my family than anybody else. Numerous times my sister has laughed so hard she snorted milk from her nose. Given the least funny of situations- a funeral, a mental breakdown, someone sick in the hospital- my brother will not only find the humor, he will make my stomach ache from laughing. Growing up my house was a bastion of laughter, color and general levity. It has been described by numerous people as a circus. I love this sense of madness within our family unit because I know the strength that exists between the five of us. My parents have raised my siblings and I in a very open environment. As children, my parent's stresses and familial problems were known to us. They respected my siblings enough to raise us in an emotional environment that was open and honest. Though this method of parenting may not be advised, the inclusiveness of our family has created a deep trust that I have for my parents and my siblings. I have never hid anything from my parents. Since we communicate so openly, my parents have become two of my best friends. I know that no matter what I tell them or who I become, they will accept me. This unconditional love is beautiful because it seems to contrast with so many of the other aspects of life in which we put ourselves first. Loving someone unconditionally means giving up a piece of your ego and yourself and accepting that in order to love someone or appreciate them, they do not have to think like you, act like you or become who you have become. Unlike friends or lovers, I can never get up and leave my family. They will be with me through every stage of my life, each big move, each disappointment and so I am with them. This inescapability creates the pain and beauty of unconditional love. Our relationships force us to accept the growth and changes of the other, and love them nonetheless. This concept, like so many other things that are truly beautiful, is a contradiction - it is both complex and simple, both mysterious and peaceful, at times it can be ugly and wretched, but ultimately it is beautiful.

My most beautiful memories are those in which I have shared the beauty of life with the people I find most beautiful. My sister and brother and I climbed sandy dunes that at that age seemed as huge as monsters, we fell and rolled and then got back up to try again. It was so windy but we made it to the top to see the ocean. It wouldn't have been as beautiful if we hadn't struggled to get there, or if we didn't share the victory of reaching the top.

Even before I knew Angel was beautiful, we walked around the block time after time, ignorantly holding hands. It was early summer and it had just rained, the air was still heavy and wet. He took me to a parking lot and made it beautiful. He told me how he came to America and made a story that so many families have his own. One very average night out of millions of average nights became beautiful because of he showed me he was.

Childhood best friends, the four of us, have made an annual summer trip of going to Maggie's beach house on Singing Beach. When I'm there, I think that it is literally what heaven should look like, if there is a heaven. The deep blue of the ocean and the streaky stark white of the sky merge as one, and there is no horizon. This is not the best or most beautiful part. Rather the best of it, and the most beautiful, of it occurs on our way up and down, during the ten hours roundtrip. Time and distance force us into the confined space of a station wagon and in between the giggle fits, Indigo Girls songs, and fights we get to really know each other. Road tripping with my three best friends could be described as "fun" or with some other lame adjective, but when I get down to the nitty gritty of it, it is beautiful. We escape the distractions of our now three, separate, distinct lives and get to see one another much more readily and easily than we do in our day to day adventures together.

I have experienced beauty because I have let myself experience it. All the details that we leave by the wayside, the people we take for granted the experiences that quickly fade into memories stuck in the dusty back of our brains, when I slowly pick them apart I search for the beauty that is inherently within them.

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