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Beauty Liberates

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Photo by Pixabay

“Genuine beauty liberates us in many ways from the force of gravity, drawing us out of the dull capacity of daily life. At the sight of the truly beautiful we are freed from the tension that urges us on toward some immediate practical goal. We become contemplative, and this is immensely valuable. We expand, and even our soul itself becomes more beautiful when beauty come to meet us, takes hold of us, and fires us with enthusiasm. It lifts us up above all that is base and common.”

— DIETRICH VON HILDEBRAND

Is Silence Beautiful?

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When I taught at a university, discovering that most of my students never experienced any periods of silence during their normal day appalled me. How could they function physically, much less think, with noise surrounding them all day long?  Did it affect their level of energy? Their ability to learn?

But they gladly shared their schedules with me and bragged of waking to the radio that had been on the entire night long, then watching television as they dressed and got ready for classes. And they learned to chat with friends with a background of music or broadcast programing going on all the time. Of course, once in class, they listened to the lecture, but traveling there always included the car radio or music from their smart phones through the wonder of earbuds.

Earbuds came to their rescue even in places that were supposed to be quiet, like the library. They never wanted to miss a chance to hear their current favorite music or radio chatter even when trying to understand some difficult material.

Silence in their daily lives could only be counted in minutes, not hours.

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On the other hand, one of my favorite memories of my college years involved time spent silently looking out of my dorm room’s large windows, frequently around  the twilight hour. My heart and my mind exultantly raced with the many possibilities that lay before me, just waiting for my selection. The experience was both calming and exhilarating whether I sat alone, engrossed in my own thoughts, or my roommate joined me in idle chatter.

The view was of a small park just across the drive from the dormitory. I treasured quietly watching the change of seasons in the foliage and flowers during the two and half years that I lived there.

The only time in my life that remotely mirrored that of my students was a particular period of heartbreak when I was left betrayed and desolate, after losing companionship, social status, and financial support. For about a year I needed the constant distraction of other voices in my ears because silence allowed me to mull over the myriad personal problems that kept me from sleeping.

But for me, that was an aberration, not a way of life. I learned to turn corners,  win new battles, and seek different rewards. I found a different abundant life.

However, I still worry about my former students. While I hope their noise/music/chatter is no longer constant, I fear their lifestyle is even more widespread today and includes additional age and  socio-economic groups.

Copyright 2018 by Kaye Fairweather

 

 

 

This Is A Beautiful Woman

This is a picture of a beautiful woman that everyone calls Sunny, because that describes her perfectly. She celebrated her one hundredth birthday this week on  Christmas Day. No matter how feeble she’s become in the last two years, those who know her best still see only the smiling, gracious woman we’ve known all these years.  Although time has certainly taken its toll on her face and body after 100 years of living on this often unpleasant planet, her personality still shines though with the cheerful sweater and stole she chooses to wear. No little old lady looks for her!

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Sunny at Christmas/Birthday party in the Nineteen-nineties.

Growing up on a sheep ranch on the Llano Estacado, sometimes called the Staked Plain area of Texas and New Mexico, taught her that softies do not win in this life. Winning, or sometimes maybe just surviving, is only for those who work hard for what they want and need.

Being the oldest of three girls, she always did the “boys” chores while growing up. After she married her high school sweetheart and moved into town, she had to learn the “girls” chores like housekeeping and cooking. But she approached the new challenges with such determination and  aplomb that she soon conquered  unusual delicacies like  home made doughnuts.

Her blissful life of keeping house and mothering her three children  came crashing down around her about two weeks after they had celebrated the baby’s first birthday. Her beloved husband was killed in a plane crash, leaving her without insurance, but with debt from starting a new small business. At that time, she had never even written a check, much less balanced a check book. There was no time to grieve; she had to learn to provide sustenance immediately.

After an intense eight weeks of tutoring in typing and shorthand by a kindly Catholic neighbor (in an area so Protestant that there was only one Catholic church in the whole county), this twenty-eight year old began her new career. She became the secretary of one of the more successful businessmen in the area. Determined to make the best of every situation she faced, she absorbed the nuances and information of the new world of deals and legal transactions like a dry sponge placed under a running faucet.

But after a few years, she began to feel the need for a formal education and started searching her options.  Her acceptance at a small college in Central Texas became the omen that the world agreed with her plan. With her usual grit and determination, she moved with her three children  just in time to unpack before classes started.

Never one to tip toe in, unobtrusively, she jumped into the college life in the Fall of 1949 with all of the fervor of a small terrier that just found himself in possession of a meaty bone. On registration day, she eagerly signed up for 24 credit hours of work (8 classes) because she wanted to be sure to get her money’s worth out of school and she’d only saved up enough for one year.

After the white haired Registrar recovered from her fainting spell, she did manage to talk this ex-sheepherder into dropping one class. Still concerned about the 21 hour load for someone who had been out of school for fourteen years, she secretly contacted all the professors to look out for this crazy woman with three kids who expected college to be easy. The only problem with that tactic for the jaded professors was that each one of them was absolutely entranced by any student who was truly eager to learn, as opposed to just getting a diploma. And learning is easy when you’re excited about it. It was so easy for this beautiful woman that she graduated within four years with both a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major and double minor. And at the same time, she provided for and reared her three children.

Stay tuned for the rest of “This Is A Beautiful Woman;” we have 64 more years to go.

Copyright 2017 by Kaye Fairweather

Beauty, Music, and Healing

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Illustration by Jon Lieff from Music Training and Neuroplasticity

I remember a young mother who was concerned about her eight year old so shy that she wanted to stay home most of the time. The mother tried various ruses to get her to play with friends away from home and to reach out to other children, but most of her attempts were less than successful.

She eventually enrolled the child in a music class and left her there alone at the first meeting, then crossed her fingers and hoped for the best. After class, she was amazed to see the exuberant joy on her reclusive one’s face as the little girl began to sing her own name and a welcoming greeting to show off her new skills.

The teacher had eased the tension for all of the students that morning by teaching each of them to sing an introduction that included their name and a welcome to their classmates. Although many adults quake in fear at the thought of singing a solo in public, somehow singing reduced all fears for each of the students.

Singing is also used as therapy with stroke victims or others suffering from some type of brain impairment. Their ability to speak is often diminished. However, singing uses a different part of the brain than speaking does, so singing ofter helps repair the damage. I understand that Gabby Giffords was treated with a form of music therapy when recovering from the assassination attempt.

Music also has the power to help people with dementia remember aspects of their lives that had been long forgotten. I remember reading about a patient who appeared to be totally unable to understand or communicate. But one time  when walking near a piano, he sat down and played song after song after song that he had played as a young adult with a band. Eventually he showed additional signs of recovering both speech and memory.

When reading about the therapeutic uses of music, many people wonder what it can do for the normal person (whatever that is). I know a teaching consultant who encourages all parents to insist that their children participate in music lessons. According to Andrew Pudewa at IEW, it’s not so much an effort to discover the next virtuoso as it is to help the child’s brain develop more fully.

If you’re interested,  The Great Courses, an adult learning resource, recently released Aniruddh Patel’s “Music and the Brain” course. This series of 18 half-hour lectures covers fundamental ideas of music theory, neuroanatomy, and cognitive science and looks at the diverse range of experiments, discoveries, and debates in this fast-changing field. Access the program online at thegreatcourses.com. Also, there are several books and numerous articles available on similar topics.

Copyright 2017 by Kaye Fairweather