“No object is so ugly that, under certain conditions of light and shade, or proximity to other things, it will not look beautiful; no object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.” – Oscar Wilde
Standing in the checkout line at the grocery, the racks full of tabloids seemed to jump out at me with the unseemly photographs of movie stars on the covers. “She” normally looks like she just stepped from the pages of Glamour, but on the cover of that gossip rag, she looked less than attractive. Then there was the cover with “him” on it, disheveled and unshaven — the caption said he had a drinking problem. What a reminder that with the right bad lighting and some photo software (and sometimes simply a bad day), as Wilde said, even the most beautiful can look ugly.
Busy eating the seeds that had fallen from the feeder, the small bird hopped around the ground. He wasn’t particularly beautiful — not a bright blue or vivid red, just another one of the black or grayish birds pecking around the yard. My camera was ready, as it usually is, though, in hopes of capturing a fleeting moment of the magic of my feathery friends. “Oh! I’m so glad the Red-Winged Blackbirds come here!” I exclaimed to my husband who rarely replies anymore to my outbursts. I raced to the living room where he was sitting to show him the shot I captured as the bird had taken sudden flight. The royal red hiding beneath those drab outer feathers offered a visual treat. You’ll have to watch if you’ve never seen them — the beautiful color that is hiding beneath the otherwise plain or even ugly exterior is worth the time you’ll spend waiting. Wilde was correct again — no object is so ugly that in the right circumstances it can’t be considered beautiful.
What is beautiful, then? As I read through the transcript of Oscar Wilde’s words to a class of art students, I realized that we are often lazy people, expecting beauty to be laid out before us. What if I were to be intentional in my effort to look for beauty in the ordinary, even in what some might call ugly?
As I began looking at everything around me, things that I passed driving through town, people with whom I crossed paths, items in my home, I discovered beauty and ugly in some unexpected places.
- Rundown houses looked really ugly at first glance. Sitting in disrepair, it would be easy to overlook their beauty, but after stopping and taking time to see beyond the outer layer, I could see the home that once housed a large family with children playing in the yard and a beautiful garden, judging by the layout of flowers still trying to push through the weeds. Yes, there was beauty.
- Watching a gentleman speak to a group of people, I thought he was a handsome enough fella — certainly would be considered a beautiful person by many — but as I heard him speak, it colored my view of him. His words were cutting and unkind. Yes, there was ugliness where I didn’t expect it.
- Looking at the piece of pottery that has been proudly displayed on the shelf in my home for probably 20 years, I know that to any other eye the misshapen piece would be considered ugly and a poor choice of decor. But the beauty is so clear to me, knowing the hands that formed it were those of a six-year-old boy who was so proud of his gift to me. Yes, there is beauty where some might overlook it.
It seems, then, that being able to point to what is beautiful or who is beautiful is subjective at the very least. More importantly, in my opinion, is that if we allow someone else to tell us what is beautiful or we settle for ‘ready-made beauty’, we shortchange ourselves.
I challenge you to recognize the beauty around you in your meetings and travels this week. Why? Because when we find beauty in unexpected places, we usually find joy. And remember, too, that when on the surface you believe you see beauty, you should look beneath to see if it still looks the same. Let’s stop allowing the world to tell us what (and who) is beautiful and discover the magic and joy that might be hiding just beyond the surface.