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Leisure • Small Pleasures

When Something is Beautiful…

It might be a tree in blossom, some daffodils, an ancient cottage, an old stone wall, the dawn sky…

Such things may delight us but can also make us sad, for we know ourselves well enough by now; we know our difficulties holding on to anything nice for very long, we know how many special things we’ve glimpsed and wanted never to forget and then let slip entirely from our minds (the trip to the islands, the medieval town by mountain, the evenings by the lake, the fields of poppies, the painting in the upper gallery of the provincial museum). We sense how far in exile we live from what we really cherish.

Nowadays, what we mostly do in the presence of beauty is – of course – take a photo. And never look at it again.

What if we were to try something else next time? What if we attempted to understand what was stirring us rather than merely walking off with its physical image? 

When we see a tree in blossom in a city street, what if we stepped back on the pavement and asked ourselves – like a Martian, a child, philosopher or a lunatic – why this thing delights us and might even threaten to make us a little tearful. What if we took some notes under a blatant heading: Why X moves me…

Camille Pissarro – Le Boulevard Montmartre, fin de journée, 1897

We might, after a few moments on the pavement, end up with a list a bit like this:

— Because it – and we – survived another winter. 

— Because our lives have grown so much harder than we expected.

— Because no one ever asked it to blossom and yet it did so anyway, just for itself, because it has (as it were) a mind of its own and its own peculiar, strong-willed priorities. It cares as little for the human circus as we often should.

— Because it stands for a playfulness and sweetness that we’ve had so much less of than we needed.

— Because we used to notice such things and have forgotten how to.

— Because it has a lace-like delicacy that we crave to find more of in our own lives.

— Because we know that if we can take pleasure here, we’ll need so much less than we thought.

We might perform a similar exercise every time a part of the world calls out to us, when we glimpse a row of fresh loaves in a baker’s shop, a small child holding on to its parent’s hand, moss growing between the stones of a weathered wall, the evening light brushing against the tops of the hills.

The more we understand, the more stand to remember. Our lives may become so much richer once we become better at preserving what has touched us.

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