In my book, Radical Joy for Hard Times: Finding Meaning and Making Beauty in Earth’s Broken Places, I write about “grabbing” beauty: “The way to survive, I’m convinced, is to keep zealously grabbing and giving as much beauty as I can.”

A friend, also a writer, questioned my use of the word “grab.” It seems so aggressive, she said. Why not choose a word like “witness” or “soak up”?

Because in hard times, I said, the moments of beauty don’t approach wearing soft shoes. You can’t see them coming from far off. You can stand there, smiling in anticipation, as you await their arrival. When you’re going through hard times, sunk in sadness and fear, you feel like you’re trapped in a darkness you’ll never escape. And then some act or sight or sound of beauty rips right through, and when that happens, you need to grab.

Here’s an example. A friend told me yesterday about sitting for hours in a hospital emergency room with her husband, who has been increasingly ill. In the cubicle where he lay, behind his bed, was a window, tightly covered with a shutter that could not be opened from the inside. My friend first noticed what was beyond the window as she waited for her husband to return after a CAT scan. That day, wild weather from Hurricane Isaias was blowing up the coast, and she realized that, if she listened closely, she could hear, beyond the hospital noises, the sound of the wind and the lashing of rain against pavement. The persistence of Earth’s weather through all the comings and goings, the births and deaths of human beings pierced her with something like joy—and she grabbed. Throughout the next several hours, as more tests, more waiting, and more anxiety consumed the day, she would turn her attention to the weather beyond the windows and grab all that wind and rain and their indomitability.

Simply to acknowledge such a gift without pausing for a moment of gratitude and relief—or, worse, ignoring or even shunning it as in appropriate at a bad time—is to let the beauty fly away without accepting its touch. If you grab, the moment doesn’t last any longer. And yet it does. It carries you forward with the reminder that life, beauty, and joy are always possible.

—Trebbe Johnson