Once upon a time beauty bloomed inside Effie’s mind as she planned the best design for the edging that would trim the sheets and pillowcases needed to complete her dowry. She often hurried to finish the farm chores to allow time to complete a few extra inches of lace before bedtime. After each harvest, she eagerly counted out her coins, hoping on the next trip to town to buy more linen to make hand towels and napkins to monogram during the winter.
All was finished and packed away in a separate wooden trunk by the time she climbed into the family’s wagon to be driven to Simmons College for her teaching degree. When things got tough at school, she comforted herself with daydreams about using the beautiful things carefully folded and waiting in her hope chest. After graduation, she moved to the territory of New Mexico to start her new life as a single woman teaching school in what became Lea County. Every month, she bought a few pieces of delicate, hand painted fine china to add to her dowry. And she kept it all under lock and key for safety’s sake.
After she married, they decided to build only a very small frame house to live in temporarily because they were living as simply as possible while getting the sheep ranch and small farm started. All of these precious linens and good china would be used in the new house – the real house they would build after proving the claim and after they had more money. But right now, they were just getting by.
Especially with growing children though, every year the nice house seemed to be further and further down the road. Occasionally Effie would open the trunk to look again at the lovely things they would use some day and show them to her three girls, provided they washed their hands before touching any of the treasures. Their big eyes drank in the glory of delicate hand painted tea cups and they begged to use them right now – today.
But cautious Effie always said, “No, not until we build the new house; these things are just too nice to use here. But then, we’ll use them every day and especially when we have company come over for dinner.”
But one Sunday, when the oldest girl was eight and the youngest a toddler, before the new house was built, they returned home after church to a smoldering pile of ashes. No one knows how the fire started or even when. They were grateful that the wind had not spread it to the corrals, so none of the livestock was lost. The windmill was still pumping water from under the ground, but no one had been there to use it to put out the fire.
Of course none of them had ever gotten to use the beautiful things that had been made with such generosity and such anticipation of the delight of sharing beauty with the people you love most of all.
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Share whatever beautiful things you have with everyone you love while both are still with you. Each of us needs all the beauty we can get from mundane tools neatly arranged to a marvelous view of our own back yard to a table set neatly in a quiet house to encourage conversation during the shared meal. Thus we build real memories instead of trying to live in air castles.
“The scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it, and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful it would not be worth knowing, and life would not be worth living.
I am not speaking, of course, of the beauty which strikes the senses, of the beauty of qualities and appearances. I am far from despising this, but it has nothing to do with science. What I mean is that more intimate beauty which comes from the harmonious order of its parts, and which a pure intelligence can grasp.”
My Mid-summer Protective Shield from Slings and Arrows:
the view from my dining table where St. Francis needs to be rescued from wisteria
Walking in beauty is not something reserved for the rich and famous. Beauty is for everyone, everywhere. It is there for the taking by observation, by hearing, by selecting, or by using. Obtaining it for oneself requires mindfulness more than money. Use it daily in your life to enjoy, to console, to inspire, and to change. Delighting in beauty is a bedrock of a happy life because that awareness helps us to gratefully notice the good things that come our way.
One’s home, whether house, apartment, or dormitory room, is probably the first place to consider in choosing beauty. For home is where we go each day to recover from “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” There is where we rest, refresh, and restore. So we owe it to ourselves to make our space beautiful for us.
Whenever buying any necessity, no matter how small your budget, think first of what delights your eye, whether selecting a trash bin or a chair for the living room. For example, if you need to get a new dust pan anyway, buy the blue or red one unless janitorial grey really is your favorite color. That way, there is one less reason to hate the process of cleaning house. As you choose the tools for living needed in each room, always select the one with the color or form that speaks to you. Even a dish scrubber can make your heart sing – see the July 18, blog post, “Is This Beautiful?”
“To thine own self be true”. . . Shakespeare
Never mind the “decorating” magazines; be true to your own tastes when arranging your home. Home is our refuge, where we can most be ourselves and indulge in our desires for color, art, arrangements, furniture, etc. that we love. It’s where we shine, revealing our true selves. Revel in your choices whenever you get to make them for your home, and decide on the object that most “speaks” to you or to you and your roomie.
If you have to live with what has been given to you even though you hate it, consider making it less ugly. Budgeteers quickly find that paint is their best friend because it remains the cheapest and quickest way to change the looks of any thing. Paint companies continuously work to make painting easier for us amateurs. If the chairs around your dining table don’t match, paint them all the same color to reduce the disparity. And the table can always be a different color or finish. Or if the table is hopelessly ugly, throw a sheet over it for camouflage, then add place mats or tablecloth on top before setting the table.
Improvise until you can afford better. Occasionally, you’ll end up loving your ugly duckling too much to ever let it go.
To choose beauty is one of the most beneficial choices one can make. It entails becoming mindful of the world around you and the people who inhabit it rather than spending all of one’s time, attention, and energy rushing to complete the next task or running away from harsh reality with mindless pursuits. It’s not so much a matter of wealth, for many humble things are beautiful. Nor is it a matter of taste, for taste is somewhat subjective, dependent upon current zeitgeist. No, it is a matter of observation.
Beauty is the choice to contemplate, to notice, to discern, and to pay attention. While skimming, peeking or glancing may be sufficient in a few situations, those activities will most frequently obscure beauty, rather than reveal it. To choose to see the beauty we encounter every day is much more important now than when the admonition to “take time to smell the roses” first became popular. The advances in technology that should have freed us from tedious labor, have instead encouraged the tedious distraction of an artificial virtual environment.
A simple way to take back one’s life is to consciously buy, keep, and use only objects of beauty that make you happy every time you look at them. Get rid of the clunkers. Don’t clutter your environment with things that do not delight you while using them.
A case in point is the item pictured above – my most recent beautiful acquisition. It efficiently removes food stuck to pans or plates before the dishwasher takes over. It is gentle to the good plates and gentle to my fingers. It’s a bright, happy color. And every time I look at it, I remember Gina. She made it herself and gave it to me with joy shining in her eyes. I fondly remember Gina each time I use the beautiful gift she graciously gave me for no reason at all, except that she loved giving. She is even more beautiful than her gift.