What Jim has learned today
I learned that it was Jean Kerr, author of “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” who said, “I’m tired of all this nonsense about beauty being only skin deep. That’s deep enough. What do you want — an adorable pancreas?” Defining beauty is an elusive sort of thing. To a physician, one pancreas may indeed be more adorable than the next. To my mother, clean underwear was a thing of beauty. She was very concerned about preserving this beauty. She used to tell me, “Change your underwear. You never know if you will get run over by a car and end up in the hospital.” I remember being a 12-year-old boy, imagining myself laying on a gurney in a hospital emergency room, my body all broken up, connected to tubes and machines, while doctors and nurses stood in a circle, holding up my tighty-whiteys … admiring their beauty. Beauty is such a subjective thing. To many, tattoos are things of beauty. To others, tattoos are a desecration of something already beautiful. Perceptions of beauty may evolve. What one considers beautiful today may be perceived as something else tomorrow. For most of my adult life, if I were to be asked, what is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen or experienced? I would have said it was standing between a pair of stirrups and knees, shoulder to shoulder with a doctor while catching my children as they were being born. Today … 36 years later … sort of gross. Ideas of beauty often stem from cultural experiences. My wife, who is from a culture 10,000 miles away on the other side of the world, recently volunteered at our public library. The first job she was given was to pull weeds from the library grounds. At this time the millions and millions of dandelions on the grounds were in full bloom. She asked me, “Habebe, what are these flowers?” I told her they were dandelions. She says to me, “They are so beautiful!” And I must admit, the dandelions were so numerous and bright it was like the earth radiating light back to the sun. She asked me, “Habebe, why do they want me to kill all these beautiful dondy lons?” This week, when she goes back and sees that the once and briefly beautiful dondy lons are no longer flowers but mere weeds choking the life from everything else that could be beautiful … she will understand. Defining what is beautiful and what is not is much like defining what is art and what is not. I once felt pretty smug when I came to define art as a thing with an intrinsic quality that forces you to look. But train wrecks do that. In 1970 the No. 12-ranked song on the Billboard charts was “Everything is Beautiful” by Ray Stevens. But in truth, everything is not beautiful … at least not to everyone, nor, all the time. This is all I have learned today.
James Wares is retired and resides in Marshalltown. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org