Haggard, Inconstant Splashes of Beauty

Posted by on March 10, 2014

It’s Friday morning, September 7, 1951. John Steinbeck emerges from deep in his writing of East of Eden to scribble a note to his friend, Pat Covici:

“This week has been a hard one. I have put the forces of evil against a potential good. Yesterday I wrote the outward thing of what happened. Today I have to show what came of it. This is quite different from the modern hard-boiled school. I think I must set it down. And I will. The spots of gold on this page are the splatterings from beautiful thoughts.”

Those five words, “the splatterings from beautiful thoughts,” let me know that I’m not alone.

Another five words, “haggard, inconstant splashes of beauty,” appear near the end of an Italian movie about a guy who, on his 65th birthday, begins to reevaluate his shallow life. The movie is visually rich but a bit of a downer.

Life can be a bit of a downer, too, even when it’s not a shallow one.

Visually rich sights are all around us but we’re too pressed for time to notice. We’re in a mood, in a hurry, in trouble, in a crisis or incapacitated. We’re anxious or angry, distracted or distraught, bedazzled, bedeviled or bedraggled.

But still those splashes of beauty creep in – barely noticeable at first – but there they are, haggard and inconstant, limping and laughing splashes of miracles that would show up more often if only we would notice.

“There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it….”
– Alan Paton, opening line of Cry, The Beloved Country

A profound beauty can often be found in the ordinary. Will you look for it with me today? The cost is nothing and the value is high.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then let us become beholders.

Yes, people will laugh at us if we see beauty where they do not. Let us think of this laughter as our gift to them. We should laugh a little, too.

And now I will tell you a dark secret that is also a paradox: the richest of all beauties – the one that takes your breath away – is deeply terrifying. It grants me new life when it appears, but I do not seek it. For this richest beauty happens only when my world collapses and my only hope is in God.

Perhaps you, too, have been there.

There is a quickening, a wiggle of life when we’re in extremis, a rearrangement of priorities, deep and clear. The problem that’s about to swallow you whole becomes a pool of water that serves as a magnifying glass and for a moment you see everything clearly.

As I said, I do not seek this richest of beauties, for it is terrifying.

Coward that I am, I shall continue to live without an all-consuming crisis for as long as I’m able and do my best to be satisfied with the haggard, inconstant splashes of beauty that are the splatterings from beautiful thoughts.

Dorothy Parker was right, “They sicken of the calm who know the storm.”

Even so, let us look for beauty – in the calm – of the ordinary.

Roy H. Williams

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