No matter what’s knocked us down or how long we’ve been there, we can not only survive but thrive. Flattened by grief—ecological, social, personal—we can still be pierced by beauty, wonder, and delight.
These gifts of grace come unpredictably, on their own timetable, not necessarily when we think we most need them. They are sneaky and whimsical like elves. They arrive as a hummingbird investigating your hat, as a stranger you glimpse doing something kind for another stranger in the supermarket, as words from a poet writing five hundred years ago as if to you. These darts of beauty are abrupt and undeviating as raptor birds. They swoop down, sweep you up, loft you away. Yes, they’ll drop you down again, and you’ll return from the flight and know the problem you’re facing hasn’t changed. But you’ll be different. You’ll know that life plows on and soars on all around you. You’ll know that even in the depths of sorrow, you’re capable of being tapped by wonder, and that, if you pay attention, you’ll probably be tapped up again.
Learning how to receive beauty also means gaining skill in giving beauty to others. This shift doesn’t happen all at once. Its pace, in fact, is just the opposite of beauty’s unerring arrow. The recognition that you can have a direct and immediate effect on your world may show up first as an odd little inclination that you brush away. Offer a hand to a stranger? Reveal to a friend or colleague what you really admire about them? Pause as you stride down a city sidewalk to touch the trunk of a slender, flowering tree? Something in you urges, Go! But another force worries: What would people think? Maybe some other time, not now. But saying Yes! to that creative, expansive impulse often calls forth not disapproval or snide laughter, but pleasure from the recipient and a surge of delight for you, the giver. Next time the voice will be clearer. Maybe you’ll say Yes more quickly.
—Trebbe Johnson

Trebbe Johnson
Trebbe JohnsonFounder
Trebbe is the author of The World Is a Waiting Lover and 101 Ways to Make Guerrilla Beauty. Her new book, Radical Joy for Hard Times: Finding Meaning and Making Beauty, will be published in Fall 2018 by North Atlantic Books. Her articles about people’s emotional and spiritual relationship with nature have appeared in Orion, Sierra, Ecopsychology, The Ecologist, The Nation, Harper’s and other magazines. She lives with her husband, Andrew Gardner, in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, a region currently under exploitation by natural gas companies.

Image Credit:

  • Peregrine Falcon: NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin

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