Some days it is SO hard to see the beauty… Today (7/28/2013) was one of those days.
I won’t go into a lot of detail, but I had an experience with a supervisor / co-worker and supposed comrade / shipmate which shook my faith in humanity. The discovery initially just made me angry. But the action was so blatant and apparently vindictive. The person lied and plead ignorance when I initially asked them about it, and then changed their story and lied to me again when I confronted them with the truth. The event was minor but the vindictiveness of it, the dishonesty, and what it appeared to reveal of this person’s opinion of me… these things quickly turned my initial anger to a deep feeling of sadness and has left me with a very negative outlook on humanity and life.
From a minor, irritating bit of drama to this intense feeling of hopelessness…
The event (or my discovery of it) occurred around the last hour or so of work, and I have been unable to think of much else since then. By the time I was driving home my mind was completely consumed with not so much dark as “blue” thoughts. It was a little after 8pm and as I drove west the sun was setting behind the mountains. The sky was turning a darker shade of blue, and the scattered remains of storm clouds were beautifully back lit.
At first I really didn’t notice it, so caught up was I in running this treadmill in my mind. Eventually the view worked its way in, and intellectually I perceived the beauty. A part of my mind even dredged up and considered the quote from Anathem below. But my mind was so full of this other stuff that it seemed to have no effect. The hurt, sorrow, anger and hopeless, never-ending sordidness of life left me unable to really appreciate what I was seeing even though I wanted to. I felt detached, my eye examined and cataloged the beauty of the sunset like a pathologist examining the deceased body of a supermodel before beginning the autopsy. The beauty before me could barely make it through the veil of negative thought, and what little I could perceive could not alleviate or distract me from my pain, as much as I wanted it to do so.
He slowed and stopped as we rounded the northeastern limb. “Did you know that we live in a beautiful place?” he asked.
“How could I not know it?” I demanded. “Every day, I go into the Mynster, I see the chancel, we sing the Anathem—”
“Your words say yes, your defensive tone says something else,” Orolo said. “You haven’t even seen this.” And he gestured to the northeast.
The range of mountains leading off in that direction was obscured during winter by clouds and during summer by haze and dust. But we were between summer and winter now. … When I had entered the Præsidium a couple of hours earlier, it had been storming, but as I’d ascended the stair, the roar of the rain and the hail had gradually diminished. By the time I’d found Orolo up top, nothing remained of the storm except for a few wild drops hurtling around on the wind like rocks in space, and a foam of tiny hailstones on the walkway. We were almost in the clouds. The sky had hurled itself against the mountains like a sea attacking a stony headland, and spent its cold energy in half an hour. The clouds were dissolving, yet the sky did not get any brighter, because the sun was going down. But Orolo with his cosmographer’s eye had noted on the flank of a mountain a stretched patch that was brighter than the rest. When I first saw what he was pointing at, I guessed that hail had silvered the boughs of trees in some high vale. But as we watched, the color of it warmed. It broadened, brightened, and crept up the mountainside, setting fire to individual trees that had changed color early. It was a ray coming through a gap in the weather far to the west, levering up as the sun sank.
“That is the kind of beauty I was trying to get you to see,” Orolo told me. “Nothing is more important than that you see and love the beauty that is right in front of you, or else you will have no defense against the ugliness that will hem you in and come at you in so many ways.”
From Fraa Orolo, of all people, this was an astonishingly poetic and sentimental remark. …
At least my eyes were open, though, to what he wanted me to see. The light on the mountain became rich in hues of crimson, gold, peach, and salmon. Over the course of a few seconds it washed the walls and towers of the Millenarian math with a glow that if I were a Deolater I’d have called holy and pointed to as proof that there must be a god.
“Beauty pierces through like that ray through the clouds,” Orolo continued. “Your eye is drawn to where it touches something that is capable of reflecting it. But your mind knows that the light does not originate from the mountains and the towers. Your mind knows that something is shining in from another world. Don’t listen to those who say it’s in the eye of the beholder.” …
The light lingered on the highest parapet for a minute, then faded. Suddenly all before us was deep greens, blues, and purples. …
Orolo hustled away and left me alone for a minute. I was surprised by a little sunrise above the mountains: the ray, sweeping invisibly up through empty sky, had found a couple of small wispy clouds and set them alight, like balls of wool flung into a fire. I looked down into the dark concent and felt no desire to jump. Seeing beauty was going to keep me alive. I thought of Cord and the beauty that she had, in the things she made, the way she carried herself, the emotions that played on her face while she was thinking. In the concent, beauty more often lay in some theoric proof—a kind of beauty that was actively sought and developed. In our buildings and music, beauty was always present even if I didn’t notice. Orolo was on to something; when I saw any of those kinds of beauty I knew I was alive, and not just in the sense that when I hit my thumb with a hammer I knew I was alive, but rather in the sense that I was partaking of something—something was passing through me that it was in my nature to be a part of. This was both a good reason not to die and a hint that death might not be everything. I knew I was perilously close to Deolater territory now. But because people could be so beautiful it was hard not to think that there was something of people that came from the other world that Cnoüs had seen through the clouds.
-Neal Stephenson [US author (1959 – )] – Anathem (2008). Part 2, “Apert”
I really dig the long quote above. But the part about “poeple could be so beautiful” I usually do NOT find to be true. I can find beauty in so much in nature and life, but I find it so hard to find in people. I guess I do not have a lot of poetic insight, as defined in anothe of my favorite quotes below.
“..if we look through all the heroic fortunes of mankind, we shall find this…entanglement of something mean and trivial with whatever is noblest in joy or sorrow. Life is made up of marble and mud. … What is called poetic insight is the gift of discerning, in this sphere of strangely-mingled elements, the beauty and the majesty which are compelled to assume a garb so sordid.”
-Nathaniel Hawthorne [US author (1804 – 1864)] – The House of the Seven Gables (1851). Chapt. 2, “The First Customer”