What is more beautiful than the hands shaped by devoted work? The marks of time and trial make wonderful maps of all the history and care that make each hand unique, every capillary the path blazed on the journey of toil or triumph.

An elder’s hand might be craggy both with age and strength and a dancer’s, always artful, even in repose. A farmer’s and a gardener’s might both have creases full of long-embedded earth, looking like furrows in the plant-rich soil. Craftsmen’s hands are often as modeled and sculpted as their works, and the athlete’s power and precision and timing and sensitivity bespeak years of training and focused will. A conductor’s hands, as I happily know, conjure music out of thin air with the way they guide and join voices and other instruments into a whole new thing, a sound that transcends all of the individuals responding to the gesture, transcends the single pair of hands.

But best of all, I think, are the hands that hold. Cradling and offering gifts to those in need, they hold a hint of another, better world. Reaching and taking another person’s hand with kind tenderness or sweet familiarity and love, the message they send for all to see is very clear. Would that every person on earth could feel the touch and know the purpose and meaning of such hands. What a pure and magical message. Send it out to the rest of the world, won’t you?photo

Strange Attractors

Living things, like certain mathematical systems, are attracted (or not) to each other in a wonderful variety of ways. It’s pretty hard to predict what will constitute an individual’s attractors. Some people might say that a warthog, for example, could only be attractive to another warthog, but that’s a very limited notion, because we all have different definitions of beauty and those definitions can be strictly visual but can easily also include appeals to our other senses, not only the standard receptors of touch, sound, taste or scent but also our sense of curiosity or contentment or spirituality or a whole range of other concepts.photoIf I were a little tiny Texas Spiny Lizard, for example, I might be interested in mating or procreating only with a similar little tiny lizard, but I could also very easily be attracted for other purposes to the warmth of a sunny concrete slab, the smorgasbord of yummy insects that visit a group of potted plants, or the shady shelter between the bricks on which the pots are perched, where I can hide from the patrolling cats of the neighborhood. If I were one of the cats, I can imagine I’d be very attracted to the lizard, not just out of feline curiosity but because cats apparently like Texas Spiny Lizards, I suppose because they are small, moving targets for the hunt and possibly just because a cat might enjoy a good set of lizard drumsticks or baby back ribs or tenderloin on occasion. Do cats analyze their dining on a basis of whether or not a meal ‘tastes like chicken‘? I don’t know, but I do know that small, moving objects and food are both common cat attractors.photoI’m sure it’s also safe to assume that others are attracted to these little reptiles. Most likely that’s the main reason I’ve rarely seen one on our patio or porch any larger than this three-inch/10 cm specimen. If one of the local hawks swoops close enough to notice them, such dainty critters would logically look like the animal equivalent of fast food, and some of the smaller but reasonably aggressive birds (I’m looking at you, bluejays) might compete for such a snack. Snakes, if any of those nearby are larger than my typical garden snake visitor, would find them delectable. So it goes. We are attracted to partners and friends, but also to that which will sustain our progress toward finer dining or just plain survival.photoMy admiration of Texas Spiny Lizards, tiny or not, is based on several of these elements. There’s the simple appeal of the handsome patterning on and sculptural shapes of their infinitesimal-alligator bodies, of course. Those zippy dashes they make from one spot to another first catch my eye and then intrigue me, especially when one of them stops to practice his pushups for a while. I like the way they hold very, very still in between moves, moving only their eyes as they seem to scan for bugs to eat or new heights of patio slab or plant pot-dom to conquer. And very often, I like to contemplate them at equal leisure, attracted most of all to their very differentness from me.

Back from the Brink

photoBurnout. Tension. Stress. Exhaustion. Doesn’t matter what I call it, the unfriendly truth of that state of being is the same. Distraction. Aching and malaise. Irritability, withdrawal, collapse. The dramatic drops in life participation and wholeness all come together in equally unpleasant responses.

What are the causes, catalysts and triggers? As many and varied as the moments of any lifetime, of a million lifetimes, can allow. How is it that I–or anyone else on this madly spinning globe–can survive such stuff assailing us, let alone prevail against it and win?

Why, in a number of ways, we all do it pretty much all of the time. That’s how our species can even continue to exist; if we didn’t have a whole arsenal of defenses and strategies for the cosmic battle, it would’ve taken little more than a moment’s stray breeze to blow us all to oblivion. But vulnerable and weak as we are, we do have our ways, and we survive.

Faith. Whether it’s the belief in something as grand and benevolent as a Supreme Being that will rescue me or in something as small and ephemeral as the offer of a stranger’s hand to grasp mine and pull me up, faith can overcome many an obstacle.

Hope, too. If not utterly confident of it, as long as I can summon a sense that there’s some probability or even possibility of better things ahead, I have a chance of mustering just enough strength, patience and will to wait for the good to come to me. I may not be able to reach for it myself any longer, but I can hang on, however thinly, to a promise of change and renewal. For the return of the light.

And love. When all other resources are at their lowest ebb, even faith and hope having withdrawn in the impenetrable distance, love can carry me through. I have a greater store than most, being surrounded as I am by not only the encouraging affection and support of spouse, family and friends but also the remarkably kind uplift I’ve received at the hands and words of a wide array of acquaintances and strangers buoying me in my life over every would-be catastrophic wave. Beyond even this, there is another love that serves me well, when I can remember it: the love inside me that, however pale and faint it’s grown in my weakened state, recognizes a need to care for and comfort others in their time of need. The moment I can step outside of my own need, my hunger, despair, anger, longing or sorrow, just enough to recollect the existence of anyone else, I tend to draw back, however slowly, from the brink myself.

I can look around again with eyes less inward-focused and with a heart more willing to keep living, hard as it may seem at the time, and crawl back toward more gracious and sanguine days. My fellow survivors show me how to do it all the time. In this, I am once again truly at peace.digitally enhanced photo

Preposterous Beauty

photo + poemIt’s a redundancy, isn’t it, ‘preposterous beauty’? What could be more unlikely, more outlandish and excessive, than beauty itself? Yet it’s the one thing we all seek, in one form or another. We long for what seems perfect, what appears flawless. We yearn after those things that, at least in our own minds, represent the ideal.

In some ways, it strikes me as puzzling that we should be anything other than repelled by beauty, if indeed it is representative of perfection: who on earth should want to be reminded of her own imperfection and inability to achieve it? I can’t imagine that there are so many people so deluded as to think themselves either perfect or deserving of association with the perfect that they would willingly submit to being even juxtaposed with any other such wonder. So why do I, of all people, so wonderfully aware at all times of my almost cartoonish capability for exemplifying the imperfect in so many aspects, find that I too am compelled to seek beauty?

Beauty is perhaps the everyman‘s Everest, so I will intone along with George Mallory and all of his philosophical heirs: “Because it’s there.” If few can deserve of a prize, that is sometimes motivation enough for all of the remaining horde to contend for it, hoping that perseverance and pure luck will combine to favor them. If something is desirable, even if merely because of its beauty, why would we not wear ourselves out in the pursuit of it?

The particular joy of Beauty is, if I may, that it is not so particular. That is, there are so many kinds of beauty possible in all of existence, and so many ways of perceiving and interpreting them, that there are almost endless sorts of beauty to be pursued. It makes a person like me, who sees herself as among the least-likely deserving recipients of the benevolence of beauty, think that perhaps there’s enough to spare for me anyway, if I show appropriate reverence for it and make an effort. It’s the only way that I can explain to myself how a person of my humble means has been so indulged with so many forms of beauty granted me in my life.

photoI think of beauty as it is understood and distilled through all of our senses: that which can be tasted, smelled, seen, heard, touched and intuited–any and all of this can be beautiful. The range of possibility is overwhelming. Imagine sitting in a peaceful room and listening to a sure, sweet voice singing a compelling melody while sunlight suffuses the space with warmth and the scent of leafy spring creeps in at the windows. Isn’t it preposterous to think all of those beauties could converge in one act? And yet they can. Imagine kneading wonderfully elastic yeasty dough with the sweetest grandmother, one who laughs softly and often, her velvety skin crinkling up around her eyes in a mischievously creased smile, and the sound of her old radio down the hall sending you Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli to accompany your kneading and chuckling together. Preposterous? Of course! But such confluences of perfection do exist.

So I keep believing and hoping and yearning. I make drawings and poems and think that, when the stars align just so, in spite of myself I may make something of beauty. Or just stumble over it and be glad. It’s so ridiculous, so impossible; true beauty is so beyond my reach it might as well be Mount Everest and I a mere speck on the earth. But it has drawn me to try the climb before, and I know it will again and again. Beauty is really preposterous that way.