Other people’s words about … beauty
I wondered if a more complex language like [my mother’s native language] Korean had a singular word to describe the feeling of getting off a long shift of a physically demanding job and finding that, for at least half an hour after, everything, every last thing, was too beautiful to bear.
Jenny asked the question so simply — ‘Okay, what do you want to talk about?’ — and I nearly reached across the table and grabbed her hands back, whispered thanks against each of her knuckles. I was about to ask her opinion on lakes and oceans — which did she prefer, contained and musty, or vast and salty? — when she suddenly sat up straight, eyes wide. ‘So — what did you think of that meeting today? Hold nothing back.’
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘I don’t know, it was fine.’
by Jean Kyoung Frazier
I thought of Sally Rooney’s novel Beautiful World, Where Are You? when I read the passage above. In Beautiful World, Rooney’s characters variously mourn the loss of the sense they used to have that they were moving through a beautiful world, or they lament the ugliness of the everyday world, or they remark upon what Rooney calls a hidden reality: the presence at all times, in all places, of a beautiful world.
Sunset, early July 2022.
I think this is what Kyuoung Frazier’s narrator is getting at. She wants to tell Jenny about the beautiful world she sees all around her — but Jenny, like everyone else in the narrator’s life, either doesn’t want to hear what she has to say or doesn’t know how to hear it.
Some years ago when I was going through a difficult patch, a friend of mine offered to exchange a daily photograph with me via text message. ‘We’ll just send each other a picture of something we see,’ she said. ‘Something we like. Something that makes us smile. We’ll share our pictures, and it’ll be a way to reach out. To say hello.’
Dune flowers, early July 2022.
We ended up exchanging daily photographs for over a year, and it was a way to say hello, but it was also so much more. What I loved most about our exchange, beyond the sense of connection it gave me with another human being, was the knowledge that we were each finding something beautiful in our day and then sharing it with someone else. Passing the beauty on.
Maybe we should all share more beauty. Maybe it doesn’t matter if beauty is fleeting and makes us feel fragile. Maybe that’s exactly why we should keep on sharing it.
Before sunset, early July 2022.
Lately I’ve been reading …
- I feel like I’m 22 again. Just absolutely and utterly lost: Carmen Maria Machado on writing, loss, depression, anxiety … and being older than twenty-two.
- James Lovelock’s Gaia theory, which was initially ridiculed as ‘New Age’ nonsense, now makes up the basis of much of climate science: Helena Horton on the life of Lovelock, who died recently at the age of 103.
- In The Last Walk, Jessica Pierce writes, ‘When we commit to owning an animal, we must commit all the way to the bitter end, as in a marriage’: Keshia Naran Badalge on seeing her beloved dog Shandi through to her death. I have to confess that ultimately I found Badalge’s piece troubling, and I would love to know what you think about it. Badalge says she thought of Shandi as her sister, but this was a ‘sister’ whom Badalge abandoned for ten years while she went off to live her own life in another country. Is that love? How much does one old dog have to forgive? What do you think?
- Part of our confusion today is tied to a belief that happiness and personal growth should organise all of our decisions about relationships, which is a relatively recent disposition in Western societies: Joshua Coleman on why the pursuit of happiness above all else is not always the best resolution when you feel you are struggling in a relationship, why our fervour for ‘happiness hacks’ (my term, not his) may be misplaced, and why Durkheim had a point.