The power of beauty

I noticed today that the world is full of beauty.

Despite a stack of papers on my desk, despite the reading I need to do to lecture students on diplomacy in the interwar years and propaganda techniques on racist websites, despite the relentless approach of winter, despite the aggravation of toilet training children, I happened to notice that the world is full of beauty.

I was headed to a cafe for lunch, and crossing a footbridge across a canal I saw a swan in the water. It surprised me, and I looked up. Autumnal gold leaves framed a crystal blue sky, the crispness of the wind blowing in from the sea (which I found so annoying a few hours before) enlivened me, and I thought, ‘The world is full of beauty.’

The realization changed me. The weight of responsibility eased and the constriction of time loosened. I don’t know if this was divine intervention — a gift from God, an answer to a vague prayer — or just a wayward swan. I’ll thank Him anyway.

What’s amazing is how one’s perspective, and maybe one’s life, can change because of a moment of optimism, a quick realization of beauty. I suppose this means I should seek these moments out, as I did for the last two winters when I kept a journal of things that would help me see the world as a good place as a way of combating the darkness of Nordic winter.

Why am I writing this? I’m telling everyone. (I already texted my wife, and I told my class before getting into the writing styles of white supremacists.) You may scoff, you may ignore this and post about something else. It’s just that I’m a few hours ahead of most of you, and I thought some of you would want to know that the world is full of beauty. And you may want to look for it yourself.


  1. Norbert: Thanks for the reminder. It’s just morning here in SLC and the mountains are dusted with new white like powdered sugar over the bright hues of autumn. My daughter has new brown boots that she is wearing to school for the first time. How can anything be very wrong after seeing such things? The world is indeed full of beauty.

  2. The smile of a 5 month old granddaughter does the same for me. God has His ways.

  3. The world is full of beauty. And sometimes in the most unexpected places.

  4. Steve Evans says:

    Norbert, you sissypants. Thanks for a sweet post.

  5. Lovely post.

  6. It’s raining in Oxford.

  7. RonanJH – I’ve always thought that it’s beautiful when it rains, particularly when the sun comes out afterward.

    Norbert – you probably already know this, but don’t listen to Steve! :) Anyway, this is a wonderful thought, particularly after my Monday groggy wake up at the ungodly hour of 545am, drag myself to work through the mess that is the freeway system over here in Orange County, California to get to work by 730, and thinking about the load of work I have to do, then leave work at two, head to Cal State Long Beach, and have classes til 815 this evening, only to return home, and do some reading for my classes, usually getting to bed around 1030-11pm. So this minute meant something quite nice.

  8. “….despite the relentless approach winter…” I know Helsinki is a far different place than Northern Virginia in winter but winter can be so beautiful too. It is my second favorite season (autumn is #1). Thanks so much for reminding us of good things to come. After a hot and humid summer I always look forward to the blazing colors of autumn and the stark, crisp contrast of winter.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    lamonte, I’m with you on the seasons.

    I blogged about a walk I took yesterday, and I too had similar thoughts at that time. For some reason I was just a little more observant and not focused exclusively on the music pumping through my i-Pod. I particularly noticed the people:

    – the old man who had been sitting on a bench, feeding the birds.

    – the mother playfully chasing her son in the playground.

    – the father following his toddler son, as the son pushed with vigor his own stroller, which was twice his size.

    – the mother taking pictures of her little girl amid the geese.

    There is beauty all around.

  10. Appreciate the post. You are right- the world is full of beauty- we just need to have the right attitude to see it.

    Much of the time I feel so preoccupied with “stuff” that I miss much of the beauty. This morning though, I noticed how beautiful the sunrise was and even took a few pictures. We have had some beautiful sunsets too.

    I think the trick is find the beautiful even among the mundane. When you get to work and there’s tons to do, problems arise, etc., are we able to still find and enjoy some beauty? In such times, do we even remember the beauty that enthralled us moments earlier? For me, it is all a matter of attitude, and I know that I miss too much beauty because I’m too often focused on other things.

  11. Also, beauty (not sure that is the right word) can be enjoyed through all of the senses. I am amazed at the taste of a perfectly ripe, juicy, tangy sweet peach. Of course chocolate in various forms ranks up there too.

    The song of a bird, the fragrance of a flower, the brush of a breeze can all be equally beautiful….

  12. Steve: I am. I am a sissypants. A sissypants who can beat the living tarnation out of you, and don’t you forget it.

    lamonte: I like a lot about winter, but my emotional reaction to the darkness has been a little rough the last couple of winters, so I’m dreading it a little.

    Kevin: I love that kind of people watching, where you feel the joy of life somehow. just after this I saw a group of four boys, all wearing all black with the same attempted tough guy expression. They made me laugh in their goofy symmetry. They were trying to look like devil worshipers but they looked like an experimental mime group.

  13. Steve Evans says:

    Speaking of goofy mime groups, can we please have a moment of silence (hee!) for Marcel Marceau? Thanks.

  14. Steve: There’s nothing goofy about Marcel. How would you like to spend most of your career trapped in a glass box?

  15. Norbert-

    You took the thoughts right out of my head…which could explain that whistling sound…

    Left Utah this past Saturday on an Indian summer morning, drove to Idaho Falls to find Fall, then drove through Yellowstone on our way back and got SNOW! 24 hours and only missed Spring.

    To see the elk and bison grazing in the green grass just below the orange tinted trees and then watch the snow flakes fall as Old Faithful erupted…was a gift! And while I’m glad winter is still a few hundred miles north of me, it was incredible to stand in the darkening gray forest that was almost stone silent and watch the snow settle on the pine trees.

    P.S. Just FYI… I have a friend with seasonal depression and she swears by those new “daylight” lights you can buy. Said they saved her life. She has an overhead one in the kitchen and a couple of table lamps where she spends the most time and has done well with them.

  16. I think too often many of us forget to look around and notice the good things in life. We are busy, preoccupied, stressed.

    Thanks for the reminder to look up and be grateful!

    (I need it today. I look up and see a messy playroom; I am facing the “what to have for dinner” question; I am working tonight; and I was sick over the weekend. Yup, thanks for the reminder!)

    FWIW, Norbert, I always enjoy your posts. Hope you find more beauty as you go throughout your day. (or is it night there now?)

  17. It’s beautiful here today, too. Thanks for reminding me to notice.

  18. What Steve said – minus the “sissypants” part.

  19. Thanks for this post. I had a similar thought during sacrament meeting on Sunday, as I sat by an open door in our stuffy unairconditioned building here in Lagos with no power to move the ceiling fans — I looked out on our shabby courtyard with a wall topped with circled razor wire and was reminded of the crown of thorns that Jesus wore. During the sacrament we had a brief rainshower that brought cooling breezes turning to bright green the moss and weeds springing up between the cracks of the paving stones — and I was reminded of Christ as the living water who gives life to the world. I need to be reminded that wherever I am, even surrounded by filth and poverty, I can evidences of my Savior, and also see beauty, if I have eyes to see.

  20. CAW —

    Thanks for sharing that.

  21. And in the sky, too, there is an astonishing amount of gratuitous beauty. Saturn’s rings and moons, Jupiter’s cloud tops, globular clusters. That is one of the evidences that shows me that God exists. We could have evolutionary tendencies to find the world beautiful, but what about globular clusters? Those are just purely gratuitous. And it’s everywhere, a leaf through a microscope, the earth from a satellite, in all sorts of places that we can’t have evolved to appreciate it there is astounding, breathtaking beauty.

    One of the ways in which my lifelong depression was cured for good is when I realized that God is present in everything around us. A gentle breeze caresses our skin and it’s a loving touch from God. Particular cloudscapes out an airplane window that nobody will ever see but me, are intimate gifts, precious jewels strewn at my feet by a loving father. And it brings him so much joy that I finally notice. I know it broke his heart before when for all those years I hurt so much and he couldn’t reach me to comfort and love me in this way. Back then I didn’t have eyes to see.

  22. Beautiful, Norbert. I read this last night and had it in my head when I went out walking this morning. No swans here, but still beautiful things to be found. Thanks for reminding me.

  23. California Condor says:

    Now is the time of year when the good life starts in Arizona. It’s heaven from now until March.

    Have fun freezing.