“The Art of Seeing” by Michael Milton
Life is filled with coincidences.
Recently, I was sitting on a bench in the Native American section of the Botanical Gardens in Park Slope, caught deep in the hypnotic pleasure of staring out at fallen blossoms pirouetting in a sudden breeze. I was vaguely aware of the rumble of traffic somewhere out around Grand Army Plaza and the distant shouts of kids beyond the fences protecting the garden.
At some point in my reverie, I heard Jimmy Soul’s famous reggae IF YOU WANNA BE HAPPY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE being blasted out from a passing car’s stereo.
If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life
Never make a pretty woman your wife
So from my personal point of view
Get an ugly girl to marry you…
A day later at a local coffee shop, I overheard a 40-something-year-old man say to his very attractive (and somewhat younger) female partner, “…It’s ME, not you! You’re great! We’re just in different leagues. I’m sorry to have wasted your time. The truth is, you are even prettier in person than your pictures are online. I’m just…not comfortable with… that.”
Uncomfortable with beauty?, I thought, as the woman quickly gathered up her things and beat a hasty retreat. That’s a first. Or was it?
In a way, he was right. If I were using a 1 to 10 meter, with “1” being “Troll-ish” and “10” being “Totally Do-able,” I’d judge the spurned beauty at Starbuck’s to be an “8” or possibly even a “9,” to his on-a-good-day “6.”
Still, I was struck by the fear of beauty (or, at least, the mistrust of beauty) in both the lyrics of Mr. Soul’s catchy song and in the cappuccino-sipping gentleman at my local coffee bar.
Does exterior beauty in a potential partner really carry such an onus? And does that fear extend even to the beauty a potential partner might carry within? Are we, at some level, simply afraid to embrace beauty in any form for fear we will lose it or not ever be equal to it? Is beauty’s power simply too overwhelming?
A pretty woman makes her husband look small
And very often causes his downfall
As soon as he marries her then she starts
To do things that will break his heart
I was told once that if I was nervous about speaking to someone, imagine them sitting on the toilet—the toilet, I guess, being the great equalizer. The same might be said of beauty… Imagine “Beauty” on a toilet. OK. MY first thought is that beauty, like all things, passes; paint colors fade, hair thins and turns white; rivers run dry; glaciers melt; oceans rise, and the sunrise comes and goes. Even our concept of what is beautiful changes; faded colors may suddenly strike us as more beautiful than the original hues, crow’s feet can become a lovely tribute to our beloved’s every smile, and even the effects of global warming create a kind of terrible new beauty.
Recently on my hurried way out of my building to get to a chorus rehearsal, I glanced down my block and saw the final rays of the sunset captured between the townhouses which line my street. I registered the moment in some superficial way but then I stopped. “See it!” I counseled the part of me which was saying– like some latter day Mad Hatter– “I’m late, I’m late! No time to pause and enjoy beauty, dammit!”
But I did stop, and to the very best of my ability allowed the full impact of that sunset the opportunity to burn through me. It was worth the moment but I had the sad thought as I resumed my journey, “It’s gone. It’s over now. Tomorrow’s sunset won’t be as good. Or maybe it will be better but tomorrow but I’ll still be indoors at work and miss it,” and on and on. Perhaps with this level of thinking, yes, beauty does cheat us. It changes, it alters, WE alter. The “9” at the coffee shop could have been the best thing ever for that man. Or not. But he will never know because he was afraid of how she might alter him, inform him, inspire him…or, yes, possibly hurt and disappoint him.
Don’t let your friends say you have no taste
Go ahead and marry anyway
Though her face is ugly, her eyes don’t match
Take it from me, she’s a better catch.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No matter how plain a woman may be, if truth and honesty are written across her face, she will be beautiful.” So, even in Mr. Soul’s “ugly” there is the possibility that a soulful beauty will at some point emerge and her callow husband may be faced with an even greater personal challenge than he would had with the superficial “pretty one” he advises us against choosing. Gotcha, Jimmy Soul!
It’s sad for me to see all the ways I have resisted the more soulful depths in some folks I’ve had the good opportunity to meet along the way as well as my dismissal of the more obvious beauties I have encountered, in both cases afraid to be compared, to be found wanting to not be “the pretty one” or “the smart one.” In short, I feared allowing for change in myself so that I might share in beauty of a hundred sorts in my life.
What is that new-agey phrase? “Feel the fear and do it anyway!”
However you feel about pithy philosophies, it seems to me an imperative to risk everything for beauty. If you truly want to be happy for the rest of your life, let the doors swing open and allow beauty to overwhelm every corner of your existence. I don’t think we will ultimately EVER be disappointed.