Ugly Loveliness


We seem to be particularly fond of loveliness these days. Everywhere I look there is a picture of something lovely. An ad for hand-scripted words and simple phrase or a picture of some delicate, pastel something. Instagram, Pinterest, Etsy, Squarespace are covered in that which is modest and pretty. Even fashion is trending this way. Neutral colors, flowy fabrics, relaxed and messy hairstyles. We love simplicity and serenity. We call it loveliness. And we love it.

We are drawn to these images. They soothe us. For a moment we rest there; we see a hand-written verse or an unassuming vase of hydrangeas and remember once again that our lungs work. Loveliness is a respite for the wanderer. And though often undeclared, we are most certainly all wanderers.

I love loveliness, too. It is good and gentle and a gift. But I fear there’s another side to it. And I wonder if we’re aware.

The rhetoric of the “happy person” is to slow down. No one ever tells you to add more to your plate. No coffee mugs display the benefits of a faster-paced life. No counselor or preacher or friend or trendy blogger tells you to wake up and forget the flowers. Instead, we’re told to slow down. Breathe deeply. Do yoga. Keep calm.

So we do. Or we try. Or we try for a bit and then remember that our proposal is due on Friday and we still haven’t RSVP’d to that shower and if we drive three more miles without getting the oil changed the car actually might explode. There isn’t enough time in the day to work out and get anything done at the office and actually cook real food for dinner and for heaven’s sake call grandma. And that doesn’t even factor in time spent wondering if you are even in the right profession or if your relationship is a bust or if you have any idea what you’re doing with your life.

It’s a big, scary spiral. Constant chaos. Constant noise and complexity. If not in your surroundings then certainly in your mind (but most often both) and all anyone can tell you is to slow down? To find the loveliness around you. To let fresh herbs and quiet mornings and utkatasana be your solace.

I get it. I get what they’re trying to say. If we can do those things, if we can really slow down and keep calm and notice the dew on the grass in the mornings, the chaos does go away for a minute. Your feet do feel a little more settled on the ground. It does look a little simpler around you. And that can be good and gentle and a gift.

But it doesn’t change the fact that there is still chaos. It doesn’t change the constant questioning or the heavy uncertainty we carry around with us. So I wonder how helpful it is to just preach our need to escape it.

If a child has under-developed social skills, doctors don’t remove him/her from other children. If someone struggles with fear and anxiety, they aren’t told to hide in their room away from anything scary. And if an issue arises with a friend or a coworker, wise counsel doesn’t tell you to just sweep it under the rug.

We are told to confront these things. Immersed completely in that which makes us uncomfortable. We are pushed – taught to fight, taught to be strong, taught to be fearless.

I love loveliness. And I do not think it wrong to seek it as comfort amidst the chaos. But I do wonder if there is another way, too. Or if we even need an escape at all. I wonder if the chaos could be lovely. If maybe when we can’t slow down or smell the flowers or answer the scary, existential crisis-esque questions, we still find that life is good and gentle and a gift.

Maybe we are calmed by the wonder of the wildness. Maybe that’s the wild air Emerson meant for you to drink. And maybe that’s better than an escape.

Scripty words and cable-knit blankets and pretty little pictures with lots of natural light are beautiful and charming and lovely.

But maybe chaos and uncertainty and complexity is too and we’ve just been thinking of it wrong.

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