There is a Chinese proverb to the effect that, “when on a trek, you trip over pebbles, not over mountains.” The point is we tend to stumble or worry about small matters and miss the larger picture.
Maybe it would help to turn those words in on themselves and to suggest in these very difficult times that sometimes it pays to take solace in small moments of art and beauty because the larger ones are missing – or at least not yet there.
I was reminded of that the other day after spending a few hours on the yard, variously mowing and gardening. As I started putting tools back in the garage I noticed this strange, eerie juxtaposition of a rose in bloom and the face of a mask we had hung on the garage. The light and the angle were perfect. It looked like the face was tasting the rose. A perfect little moment, fleeting but for the ability of my handy iPhone to capture the moment and preserve it.
I’ve now been home 105 days running now, the longest in over 30 years. No one else but my wife and I have entered the house in 14 weeks. The news in that time seems already to have created an era deserving its own designation; we’ve been bombarded with headlines and imagery depicting pandemic, police brutality, near economic collapse, voter suppression and a refusal by our political leadership to address these issues in fundamental ways. It’s easy and understandable to feel overwhelmed. The effort to counter helplessness requires enormous reservoirs of sustained energy. It also entails maintaining hope against considerable evidence of historical disappointment.
Sometimes there are signs of things changing for the better. Perhaps these are simply omens for being optimistic that we are actually making progress. That’s where those moments of art register. They strike a chord, resonate from deep inside, and keep you going when it would be all-too-easy to retreat into a pure realm of privacy.
I never quite know where or when these moments will arise. I have to admit to being a complete sap, capable of crying at the slightest provocation. An upset win in sports. A song that comes up on my various wanderings through YouTube. An old black and white movie. I confess even to the occasional tearful response to a highlight real from the top-ten moments of Britain’s Got Talent.
I stumbled into this awareness of acute emotional lability sometime as a “tweenager,” when I was flipping through a book of year’s sports photography of the year – it might have been a 1966 edition or so. I came across an image of a young man, blind since birth, having just gone on his first fishing exhibition and holding on to the catch he made. (I am writing this through the cloud of tears that always reappears when I think back upon the scene). The look on his face, the sheer joy and excitement as he explored tactilely a world he could not ever see, filled me with amazement and led me to tears for the first time I can remember like that.
Small moments of beauty. They are everywhere around us. Yes, it would be nice if the world got better in the big ways we desperately need. But all around us, as I have discovered over and over again these last three months, there are small glimpses of a world filled with love and beauty. These are the much-needed reminders that keep us going on a daily basis and that others deserve to share in the simplest of ways.