Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Eye of the Beholder

This morning, over a jelly donut and a medium blueberry iced coffee from Dunkin Donuts, a friend of mine relayed a quote to me from Sigmund Freud. The gist of it went as such: Beauty has no intrinsic use, yet without it, we could not live.

Most would agree that despite the fallen nature of the world a bounty of beauty exists all around us. I think Freud may be on to something with this idea that this beauty has no use. Certainly nothing tangible is gained from gazing at Notre Dame or holding a month-old child or viewing a perfected piece of art. However, things which we find beautiful, whatever they may be, move us in a way that the mundane does not. They stir our souls.

This begs the question as to what beauty is, what quality it is that makes us marvel in awe and appreciation at certain things. What is it that makes me unable to take my eyes off a sunrise when glancing at another south-Charlotte strip mall makes me want to move to Boston? What is it about Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral that awakens a small but powerful excitement deep within me while reading a newspaper article often leaves me reaching for the remote? Why can't I cease to smile when a child approaches the register but must force a good presentation whenever the approaching customer is above the age of 11?

In each case, the basic facts and outcome are the same. My eyes scientifically perform the same process whether looking at sunrises or suburbia. I gain knowledge whether reading Eliot or watching Brokaw. Borders makes its $7.98 regardless of the customer. Why then do I behold beauty in one situation but not the other? Why do I respond differently to situations with discrepancies in perceived beauty? What is it that stirs my soul?

I don't know. I don't know why trees with autumn leaves are beautiful to me while gravel is not. I don't know why the rolling Appalachains of I-77 stop me in my tracks while the flat piedmont of I-85 lulls me to sleep. I don't know why the voice of Sara Evans makes me say, "Dang." But I can't deny beauty, even if I can't say exactly what it is or why it exists.

And I like not having an answer to this question. I can't explain it away. I can't frustratingly roll it around in my brain until I need a Tylenol. My dominating ration can't destroy my beleagured emotion. God has simply provided things in life which I find beautiful. That is good. That is all I need to know. So I go enjoy the gift.

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