In the Words of the Beholder
by River Adams
Original publication in: Crosstimbers 12 1 (2012): 54-55.
I find special beauty in the sky. A cliché to many, it is not to me, and that beauty stuns me every time anew. I raise my eyes to the heavens, often, in a habit that never becomes routine, much like a mother’s gesture to touch her child’s forehead to tell a temperature: it seems to an outsider a passing thing, but in that moment her whole being is tuned to it, sensing, connected. Drinking in her own wellbeing from another.
I look up at the sky when I rise in the morning and stand by the window to greet the new day, and when I walk out of the door. When I stop momentarily in the midst of the day’s sound and fury. When I travel home, tired of my restless mind, and the mind quiets in the gliding spans of the heavenly line. When I want to share celebration or to ask for consolation. Because the heavens—the beauty of the sky infinitely changing in its fluidity and infinitely enduring in its constant presence—take my breath away.
To me, the sky is the smile of God, His conversation with me—a touching, subtle play of hues so inimitable that its poignancy boils tears in my eyes. An outpouring of glory so spectacular, so symphonically grandiose that only a gasp and a whispered prayer dare accompany it. A pattern of wispy or doodly clouds so obviously facetious that any burden I carry slips off my shoulders, any mood turns into laughter. When I look at the sky, my soul sings and feels the touch of my one Love. When I look at the sky, nothing else exists but its unequaled beauty, and we are one.
It was not always so. I am what people tend to call a “convert”—a conscious discoverer of faith. I’d lived a long time in darkness and torturous loneliness until the day I saw God smile. But on that day, in the whirlwind of my changing life, He lifted up my face and showed me the sky—the perpetual miracle of His beauty, the sign of our covenant. And He promised it to me.
In place of a promised land, I have a promised sky.
It had not always been so, but, of course, I’d always loved the sky, especially sunsets. So many people do, that such a statement no longer tells us anything about one another. Who doesn’t like sunsets?
I used to drive home on the highway, and, marveling at a particularly gorgeous horizon, I used to think that, if there’d been a god, he’d probably communicate this way with humans. It was but a poetic expression to me then. I didn’t realize there was anything more to see in what I was seeing.
Who likes to think she lacks in appreciation of beauty? And is there really such a thing? Can we point to something and tell our friends it’s more beautiful than they think? We see in what surrounds us as much as we recognize, and no more. No less. People say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that’s true. That’s what makes us different, diverse, complementary—and it’s a wondrous thing. I keep telling myself this because I am tempted to keep pulling my friends’ faces up. I keep wanting to beg, “Look! Look, can’t you see? Look at this wonder, the glory! The beauty… How breathtaking… What treasure…” I keep wanting to feel them dissolve into it next to me, all boundaries shimmering outside of time.
I did that again and again when this was all new to me, and they obligingly looked. They said, “It’s really nice.” They said, “Wow. That’s a beautiful sunset.” They said, “Ummm. Yeah, clouds.” Then they looked down and talked. If I kept pushing, I felt their resentment at an implication that I was somehow more sensitive to nature’s beauty than they. Of course, this wasn’t so.
It’s taken me a while to understand why there is such a difference between the ways they and I see the sky, and it’s not about beauty. It’s about love.
All of us are taken with beauty, but we are taken also with the rollercoasters in our minds—my friends and I, I then and I now. We are busily processing people, constantly defining ourselves by what we know, remember, and think. By what’s important. All of us see beauty in different ways.
Almost all of us appreciate aesthetically pleasing sights, so when you and your friend stand on a mountain top surveying a majestic landscape below, if both of you have any sense at all, you will probably have reactions of similar magnitude. You both will gasp, you both will smile. You both will want to stand there for a certain period of time, snap pictures, commit the sight to memory. Perhaps, you’ll point out landmarks to each other. Perhaps, you will whisper in awe.
You both might smile and chat, unless for one of you this land is homeland, the land made fertile with his ancestors’ sacred bones—his childhood, his dearest memories, where his mother’s cooking awaits him and the smoke rises from his house chimney. Where he knows every path, every hill, the scratch on every tree, every anthill and old bear, every nook. Where every smell tells him the story of primeval rising and every sunray falls upon a healing herb, nurtured by the ancient recipes. Where he cares to labor all his life or to lay it down for the thriving and protection of what is holy. Where he stands. Lives. And dies.
When we look at the things we love, our hearts are filled with more than aesthetic appreciation—they are filled with every meaning those things carry. With the meaning of life itself. When you stand atop that mountain, one of you might cry, for love overwhelms.
The ways my friends and I look at the sky, the way I used to look at it and the way I look at it now… There’s a difference. Imagine a generic picture of a handsome man that pre-fills a store-bought frame. Now imagine a portrait of the love of your life, as he is bursting with laughter, on the happiest day in your memory, and you can discern each freckle on his cheekbones, sprinkled by the sun, so dear to you that your heart spasms at the sight. It is the difference between a beautiful face and a beloved face.
We are together always, my Love and I, but when I look at the sky, I see the line of His smile, the shine of His eyes. I can almost hear His voice, whispering to me that which He wants me to know. It is our embrace. His song. The play of His brush. Our silent conversation.
When they say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they are talking about love.