It can be difficult to describe beauty. I’m not sure why. We all know what it is and can agree on commonly shared ideas of beauty like seeing stunning sunsets or inhaling the scent of deep red roses. Still, there’s an ethereal quality about the term that demands a broader definition. The concept surrounds us from our very beginning.
Babies and toddlers possess a beauty that helps us cope with the non-stop care they require. We are never so needy as when we are small and we’re probably never so beautiful, either. Think of the extraordinary instances that secure children in our hearts. That first tender smile when you realize it’s just for you. The explosive giggle as you turn yourself inside out to delight them. The damp curls at the nape of their necks after a bath. Yeah, stuff like that.
But the years roll on and the beauty of bright eyes, velvet skin and baby soft hair fades as we approach about age seven, have a few missing teeth, and would rather run and play than take a bath. Little girls howl when Mom wants to brush the knots out of their hair and little boys hate dressing up. Beauty is the furthest thing from their minds.
In the teen years all that changes. Suddenly there are others besides parents and Grandma to please. Clothes, shoes, faces and hair have to be perfect in order to attract those “others.” In their hands is the responsibility of producing the next generation and physical attraction necessarily comes first, often on a superficial level. Sometimes I’ll look at old family pictures of Mom or Grandma as very young women and wonder if each took care to look just so for the camera. Perhaps they practiced a smile or two in the mirror beforehand. Or maybe the camera caught them unaware and captured the most natural portrait of their beauty. Either way I hope they felt stylish that day, smiling happily for the photographer. I always wonder who they were hoping to attract.
Most teens will eventually discover that looks alone aren’t enough. They stretch and grow and long for other attributes, learning soon enough that physical beauty cannot replace kindness, humor, intelligence, and a strong sense of self worth. We can excuse this short-lived but necessary vanity.
The middle years creep in and then we’re afraid our beauty is beginning to fade. Whole industries have been built around this fear and we don’t have to go too far to find just the product or procedure for smoothing our skin, flattening our stomachs, and getting white teeth or glossy hair. Men and women in their forties, fifties and sixties have no excuse for not looking ten years younger. What a burden.
No one seems to take into account nowadays the beauty of old age. However, that deep-in-the soul beauty we gain by simply living – and for a long time – offsets the shallowness of those who cannot see it.
I once knew a woman who had nothing at all to display in the way of physical beauty. She was much older than me with stringy hair and a bad complexion. Her eyeglasses were thick and her shoulders were stooped. Her name was Grace and it didn’t seem like the name fit at all. Until she spoke. Not only was her voice rich and clear, her words were full of experience, faith and yes – wisdom. I met her at a Bible study and I loved it when she added to the discussion. The sound of her voice was like a bit of Heaven dropped to earth. No one cared what she looked like. Years later, when news of her death reached me, I was sad for those of us she left, but knew that heaven was that day enriched.
We’ve heard the sayings, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and “beauty is its own excuse for being.” Both statements ring true and don’t apply solely to human beauty, of course. We’ve been given a wonderful world, wide and compelling. The first thing any of us must deal with, however, is each other; before anything like a deep red rose, a snow capped mountain or rolling ocean waves are experienced. When beauty is shown first in love, acceptance, humor and joy, from parent to child, from friend to friend, and lover to loved, that’s where we begin to really see and appreciate the created world. That’s when we begin to know what beauty is.
If you know someone with little beauty in their lives - give them some of yours.
Image: Free Digital Photos