And Coming in 2016....

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden," to be published by Cranberry Quill... an allegory for children of all ages, beautifully illustrated.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Beauty

Edward Bok’s story is the stuff of fairy tales. He emigrated from the Netherlands, grew up with nothing, and turned that nothing – through hard work – into a publishing empire as founder and editor of Ladies' Home Journal. He championed causes, refused to use quacks as magazine advertisers, and coined the term “living room” because it appalled him that people spent so much money furnishing the “parlor” without often venturing into it for the family’s enjoyment. His Bok Tower and Gardens, dedicated in Lake Wales in 1929, continues to inspire, educate, and quiet thousands of visitors each year.

Well-known to those who walk the peaceful garden is a famous quote, actually the words of Bok’s grandmother which he shared in his autobiography, The Americanization of Edward Bok; he won a Pulitzer for the book. The statement – on everything from plaques to magnets – is worded a little oddly, reminiscent of Old World syntax:  Make you the world a bit more beautiful and better because you have been in it.

Think about that a minute. The big picture first, that when you die you will leave behind a legacy with your family, friends, and community. Will it be a legacy of beauty? Loving actions and words, accomplishments you were proud to achieve? No one wants to think about their death, as certain as they may be, however. I think we can take Bok’s quote and use it every day. Every hour. Every moment.

Years ago I was in Turkey, visiting museums and mosques. I was amazed at the use of artistry in unexpected places. Islamic art is traditionally free of any figures that might seem idolatrous. Living beings are often avoided, then, with a focus on geometric shapes. But such beautiful designs and colors are used, and in every corner, whether seen by many or tucked away, hidden. It reminds me of Thomas Gray’s Elegy in a Churchyard: “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen/ And waste its sweetness on the desert air.” In nature itself, where high atop mountains grow beautiful, delicate flowers that are rarely, if ever appreciated by the human eye.

I’ve heard that a good housekeeping practice is to develop an eye for making quick adjustments. Before leaving a room, scan for items out of place or in need of a once-over. Leave each room better than the way you found it upon entering. If this is done as a lifestyle, it follows that clutter is better kept under control.

We could adopt a combination of these thoughts as a lifestyle with one another, in our families, our relationships, our communities, our world. Beauty for beauty’s sake – not just artwork, but attitudes -  in a world of coarseness, where giving someone the finger when he cuts you off in traffic is the standard, where children’s ears are no longer protected from harsh vulgarities, where those in authority are disrespected, where elegance has given way to crassness.

As a substitute teacher, I have been asked on several occasions why I smile so much. “I’m happy,” I reply. “Aren’t you used to seeing people smile?” Inevitably, the response is negative. How sad, that children grow up where a simple smile strikes them as unusual. We can change that.

We’re entering that time-slammed period of time in our country between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, when everyone seems to be in a hurry, pressured, focused on self-imposed goals or societally-imposed expectations. Buy, eat, hustle here and there. I propose that we take a few breaths and set another intention.

Let’s leave the next few months more beautiful. Flowers on the table. Smiles upon our faces. With every room we enter, let’s ask what can be done to improve it. With every relationship, let’s ask the same thing, every encounter with a fellow human being. In an elevator, what can I do to make a positive impact on these strangers – a smile, moving a little to the left to give someone more room, a compliment on those earrings? Does someone at the office never have a kind word for anyone – perhaps he or she could hear one, instead. Is a child at school always a problem? Perhaps he is waiting to see if his teacher looks beyond behavior to his true self, and appreciate him for just being who he is.

And when someone cuts you off in traffic, be thankful for your brakes, the gentle reminder to slow down, the opportunity to smile at another’s foolishness. It is a simplistic idea, perhaps, but a thing of beauty, too, that today, I might leave a conversation with a sense of having contributed something positive. I might leave a room with a sense of order and creativity. I might leave a person with a sense of affirmation and affection.

Maybe this is just too, too naive, but like in the movie Pay it Forward, in which a little boy challenged others to help, truly help, a few others, who would in turn help, truly help a few others...as in the book and movie Magnificent Obsession, where people devoted their lives to anonymously and significantly helping others...as in the Bible, where we are taught that we should love others as we love ourselves...I think a revolution of beauty in all its expressions is possible. Physical beauty is enhanced through smiling. Artistic beauty for its own sake, with no other purpose. A beauty of spirit, looking for ways to uplift. A beauty of order and cleanliness in our homes. 

It's something to think about, anyway. For what it's worth.


(c) Ellen Gillette, 2014