Life is beautiful. I’ve heard this statement so many times, often nodding in agreement, because it seemed like it was the expected thing to do. To accept this statement at face value is to bring hope; to squelch my feelings of quite the opposite: that life is anything but beautiful. When someone tells me this, I look into their eyes to catch a glimpse of that sentiment. I want to feel for a moment what they are feeling; to see through their eyes what they are seeing, wanting to believe that it is me who sees the world distorted whose perspective misses the “beauty” who wants to deny the reality of what my eyes and ears perceive.
But is it really me who’s in denial about life’s beauty? I guess it all depends on how one defines beauty. Oh sure, life has many beautiful moments: the birth of a child, a sunrise, a sunset, a beautiful landscape, a blooming flower, falling in love and have it be requited and many other joyful, awe inspiring occurrences in a person’s life. Those are all beautiful moments, but they are individual moments enjoyed by the ego, or the individual. For me to grasp the beauty of those moments, I have to deny the existence of every other evil/ugliness that is occurring at that precise instant. While I hold my baby close to me and kiss his sweet cheeks and hold his tiny little finger and thanks the heavens for this gift, I choose not to acknowledge that another child in another place is suffering malnutrition, or abuse, or has lost a mother or father to war or disease or accident. I choose not to see that a mother has lost a child to death by whatever means. I choose to deny that almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. Or that there are currently fifteen African countries involved in some kind of war or that death by terrorism worldwide has increased 83% since 2013. While enjoying the miracle of my child, I do not want to know about, poverty, addiction, disease, decay, crime, wars, terrorism, pollution, natural disasters, accidents and every other worldly calamity. My mind refuses to go there and only sees the innocence of my child and my senses experience only joy when holding my child. And for a moment, I feel that life is beautiful. The experience of beauty in our lives acts as an emotional anesthetic, dulling the collective pain of the world.
But life is not beautiful. Life is chaos. Life is threatening. Life is a struggle. From the moment we are born, we are merely trying to survive. Some survive better than others. But in the end we all lose the race, for none survive. To live is to die. And no one makes it to the finish line unscathed. Some of us have more beautiful moments in our lives than others. So life may be the quest to experience as many beautiful moments as possible. But life itself is not beautiful.
What is beautiful is the human spirit. A spirit that since time immemorial keeps searching for beauty in its purest form. A child takes his first breath and like an addict taking his first hit, gets a glimpse, of what could be. And for the rest of our lives we are chasing that vision. Isn’t this what our founders intended when they gave us the right to the “pursuit” of happiness? That’s what we all do. We are in constant pursuit of that elusive, ephemeral beauty. We hold on to those beautiful moments life offers us and we cling to the hope of making those moments eternal, real, the norm rather than the rarity.
I think the movie “Life is Beautiful” expressed this excellently. While in a Nazi concentration camp, dad shields the child from all the cruelty, savagery and ugliness of the place and the humans guarding it. His love for his child created a fantasy world (a beautiful world) in which the child to live. He did not allow the ugliness to squelch his spirit his hope that while life was not beautiful for him, it may be for his son. He passed the dream/hope on to his son the way a relay racer passes the baton. If we all keep on holding on and keep pursuing it, someday, we may win the race and attain a beautiful life.