Keep Something Beautiful
“I love Pascal’s phrase, that you should always keep something beautiful in your mind. And I have often — like in times when it’s been really difficult for me, if you can keep some kind of little contour that you can glimpse sideways at, now and again, you can endure great bleakness.” – John O’Donohue
John O’Donohue was an Irish poet, former priest, philosopher and mystic whose writing continues to accompany many on their spiritual journeys. He was influenced by the landscape of his childhood, having grown up on a farm in Western Ireland. A limestone valley and the waters of Galway Bay shaped his soul. His mysticism came from a sense of oneness with the untamed wildness of his native land. Beauty was everywhere he looked.
For those of us who weren’t born in the middle of what he once called an “ancient conversation between the ocean and the stone,” beauty may not be as obvious. We tend to get stuck in the consumer’s definition of beauty, thinking we can buy our way into it. Yet, O’Donohue says, “the human soul is hungry for beauty; we seek it everywhere – in landscape, music, art, clothes, furniture, gardening, companionship, love, religion and in ourselves.” Beauty is a transcendent value. It is a timeless, eternal value that calls us out of our limited selves.
Most of us were not born in the middle of an ancient conversation between the ocean and the stone. Even so, a memorable landscape is often the first place we look for beauty. Once a year we head south and west towards Fredericksburg to my sister’s ranch in Edward’s County. Don’t think cattle and sheep, think deer and wild hogs. Think rocks and cedar. Think no internet or cell phone.
My sister and her husband’s ranch is a parceled out portion of what was once a working ranch. Hunting exotics like Axis deer and Black buck antelope is possible. Killing wild hogs is required to keep the population down. I like to go for a drive in the evening to see the deer, the jack rabbits, the road runners, and the sunset. It is beautiful.
This year there were more wildflowers than usual, evidence of a very wet spring. The road into the original ranch was rockier than usual, evidence of a very wet fall. The road was flooded in October, stranding residents for days. When the waters receded, the unpaved road was in worse condition than after past floods. It will be awhile before it’s fixed. Edwards County is one of the least populated counties, with one of the lowest tax bases in Texas. It will be awhile before it’s fixed.
As we rocked back in forth in my brother-in-law’s truck, hanging on to ice chests and duffle bags, we had more time to admire the wildflowers. We had more time to see the baby goats who stood out stark white against their mother’s dingy coats. More time to search the trees for deer.
The next morning we went for a walk. In addition to more wildflowers than last year, there were more cactus in bloom. My sister led the way. She spotted a beautiful orange flower, the less common variety, and called us after her to come see it. As we approached, she screamed “snake!” and came running towards us. My husband Frank and I nearly tripped over each other getting out of the way. We didn’t see the snake. We didn’t see the flower either. Beauty is, most importantly, about paying attention.
Most of us weren’t born in the middle of an “ancient conversation between the ocean and the stone.” Most of us have days when we feel that we were born more between a rock and a hard place than in a place that surrounded our emerging souls with beauty. If we look in just the right way, if we pay attention long enough we can find the beauty in the hard places, in the rocks, the stones, the flowers, and yes, even the snakes. We can keep something beautiful in our minds and in our hearts.