Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Beauty a Necessity

Ran into a friend at the park a few weeks ago. We got to talking about this and that. We talked about our lack of money. Interestingly, she confirmed and strengthened something I was saying: that there is having a beautiful home and then there is debilitating squalor. I said that I was quite prepared for not having the one - only old people and dual-incomers have beautiful homes, anyway - but I was not willing to accept the other. I was not willing to live in squalor.

My family and I are forced to live significantly below the level I enjoyed growing up. I don't mind too much - as long as there is enough to pay the bills, more or less, and that that Visa doesn't rise too high too quickly. I will have cheap flooring, but I will not have a stained carpet. I will lack nice fixtures, but a ripped couch is too much. My family has never gone on a vacation to brag about, you know like Florida or some place like that. And we have only been able to visit our families in Nova Scotia and PEI on average about every third year. No NHL games in Ottawa, not even on cable! No trendy clothes, no flashy car, none of that stuff. Another friend of mine liked to talk the car doors her dad used to have to tie shut with a rope. Embarrassing then, no doubt, rather humorous to recall now. There can be a certain charm in poverty.

I was just glancing at an article on the rising death rate in Russia. When I think of life there I think of those huge, ugly apartment building the Commies put up. Talk about demoralizing. Poverty equals demoralization. If we wonder why depression is a First World more than a Third World problem it has something to do with beauty, I am sure. Perhaps Third World people are closer to nature, on average?

CNN recently came out with an article on the houses of Archbishops. It was interesting to see their houses, but it was rather unfairly presented. I won't go into it here, better men than me could explain it. But one thing I found ironic was the praise lavished on Pope Francis for his humble lifestyle, and by way of proof they offer this picture of his bedroom:

Now, where I come from that's gorgeous. Would you like to see a picture of my bedroom? No, you wouldn't. Our fifteen-year-old mattress sucked when we bought it. By contrast, the Pope's bedroom is beautiful. It's small, but it's beautiful. I can't imagine how much the flooring and the furniture cost. But it's not my point to criticize the Pope - far from it.

Size isn't everything when it comes to wealth and beauty. The Mona Lisa is surprisingly small. Those endless tracks of Commie housing are large - large and ugly. When I lived in the cathedral rectory in Halifax, it was large, but nothing to write home about. Whatever you might think about the life of Pope Francis and his predecessors, they were surrounded by beauty, and that is no small thing.

I don't envy my friends in Ottawa, Toronto, etc., whether they have more money than me or not. Cities are uglier than Barry's Bay, and that is a kind of wealth I get to enjoy. My brother recently moved his family from Toronto to rural Nova Scotia. Beauty called him, whether he was conscious of it or not. The false beauty of cities is no substitute for the real thing. The popularity of i-this and i-that is due to the aesthetic superiority of those products over those of the other companies. That they are over-priced has proved no barrier to their popularity.

Leaves die with beauty. Trees then barren of their foliage on windswept winter plains, also beautiful.

Beauty is not relative, but it is sometimes unexpected. Beauty, will not save the world, but it can help to heal it, much like understanding, compassion, generosity, justice, and fun can help to heal it.

But beauty must be shared. I can share the beauty of my town with my hospitality to summer tourists. Sure, they make the lines in the grocery store a little longer,  but they are here for the same reason anyone goes to a hospital, for healing. Let me make beautiful things - beautiful words, if I can, to celebrate beautiful ideas, present pictures of beauty: that is what I want The Catholic Review of Books to do.

Christians must share beauty. Let us consider it among the spiritual works of mercy. If there is someone poorer than you perhaps buy them something they would never buy for themselves, an expensive bouquet of flowers, not the ones from the grocery store, the ones from the florist. Buy a poorer friend their favorite book, but in the Folio Society edition. Buy them a lovely lamp, not the ones you get at Walmart, but something from a store your friend would never have the gall to go in, perhaps from an antique dealer. A painting, a lovely print, a statue.

For me, there is something about beautiful words. I read a bit of Shakespeare, and I am amazed and delighted. My friend, Breann has written some beautiful poems. What a great gift to the world!

I have Barry's Bay, Maria's smile, Anne-Marie's charms, and the scratchings I produce I call writing. Beauty is as necessary as food and knowledge.

Thus revealing my hitherto undisclosed passion for lamps and flowers.
No, not my house. It costs way to much to look that 'simple' and 'charming'.


  1. Fascinating topic - beauty and money. I recently read an article that talked about minimalism. The article's point was that minimalism can only be achieved by having enough money - unexpected I know, but makes sense. You don't see bag ladies carrying around their iMac's and some water - only the rich do that. No - the homeless are carrying around their homes on their backs, which is everything from underwear to books to food and blankets. Yet Madonna House proves that you can have both…you can live simply and still make your surroundings beautiful…which is what I aspire to do with my own home. It still takes work and a little finesse, but it's possible. And I think, beautiful.