Wednesday, April 6, 2011

To live without beauty...

What must it be like to live without beauty? I have asked myself this question for years. You can argue of course there is beauty in every little thing on this earth, but what of the thousands of children across the world who grow up in a world devoid of colorful flowers, chirping birds, or simply the silence of peace?

I know I've been spoiled. My images of mountains are based upon the majestic Rockies out west. My images of beaches are those of my home in Hawaii. My images of forests are those of the lush German landscape where I grew up. I am spoiled. But I am also grateful every day for having known not only the beauty of things I can see with my eyes but also for knowing what a rose smells like... compared to a hyacinth or a plumeria blossom. I am grateful that I know what the haunting melodies of Mahler sound like versus the charm of 1930s swing or the power of an African drum beat. I am grateful that I can recall the simple sweetness of a ripe peach or the rich and varied tastes of my mother's delicious bolognese sauce. These sounds, smells, images, tastes: they are all so beautiful.

I have been glued to the news these past few weeks as we all have, and I have diligently read my Economist cover to cover on the train to work, and I simply cannot make sense of anything. At a benefit concert last Sunday given by the excellent One World Symphony, I wept uncontrollably at the beauty of the music, thinking how pure and simple those moments were and how there were so many millions of people suffering at the hands of those who choose not to preserve beauty and harmony but rather to destroy it or stop its coming back. How, after all, can someone choose to destroy his country's people and infrastructure, history and culture simply to attempt - we hope, vainly - to remain in power? How can a supposedly God-loving "patriotic" American burn the holy book of the Islamic faith when he surely would have plenty to say about the desecration of his holy and beautiful book?

What is all the point of this (possibly badly-constructed-stream-of-consciousness) talk? I'm getting there. A friend guided me to a very special segment on NPR this morning, which I urge you to listen to. About ten years ago, a gentleman living in the ruins of Kinshasa (the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo) just after the brutal civil war, which killed approximately three million Africans, decided that he was not going to sit back and accept the desperation and destruction around him. His answer? Why, create an orchestra of course! Not only that, but it has 200 (yes, TWO HUNDRED) musicians. The Kinshasa Symphony (or Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste) has now been playing for about a decade and the film of the same name will open at the NY African Film Festival this week in Manhattan. (Click here to see a trailer for the movie!)

A very wise woman once said to me in a moment of utter despair: "just because beauty is more elusive does not make it less vital to life." I urge you to take a moment and find some beauty. It won't be easy, at least not in New York where it's freezing and pouring, but look around and find something beautiful. And hold onto it.

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