Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Life Lessons From a Scottish Shore

I was sharing the pictures from my recent cruise of the British Isles with my daughter when we came to this picture.

"Mom, you took a picture of rocks."

"Yes, but look at them; they were so beautiful."

They were less comfortable to walk on but infinitely more interesting to look at than sandy white beaches (Unless you are using a microscope, then each grain of sand is strikingly unique). When she left I looked at this picture again and wondered what it was that I found beautiful.

Ordinariness. There aren't any precious or rare gemstones here. No diamonds, pearls, or even semi-precious stones. But often the most beautiful things are less than perfectly polished. The same goes for people.

Brokenness. I'm sure the original shells, stones, and bottles and pottery were very nice things in and of themselves. But it was in the being broken that a new beauty was found. And while I'm sure that these fragments were useful in their original forms, they would not have been able to be combined together to form a very nice beach. A collection of empty bottles on a beach is called trash. But with the pressure and constant tumbling of the sea it is reduced and refined to something called beach glass, so beautiful that people collect it and make jewelry from it.

Individuality.  These rocks and shells, picked up and examined one at a time, have beauty of their own. Each one has its own unique history, it's own story of how it came to be the way it is. Every unique item could tell how it was crushed and worn over time through the experiences of its life to end up exactly as it is now. No two of those stories would be the same.

Combination and variety. The different colors, sizes, and shapes. The very different-ness of the stones, shells, and sea glass was what made the beach so eye catchingly stunning. It is seeing the pieces together contrasted against each other that emphasizes the beauty of each piece. I picked up a few bits from this beach and brought them home to place in a wooden bowl on my coffee table where they are combined with other things collected from my travels. The combination is beautiful in a different way. It is now contrived (by me) as opposed to the natural and random combination which was far more organic and aesthetically pleasing.

Setting. When I looked down and took this picture I was standing on a rocky coastline, under a grey sky, with an ancient little town in the distance. Where the rocks were, added to their beauty. The dampened light, the water, the mystery of the town added to the beauty of the stones were all elements that worked together to heighten the pleasure of the moment. The backdrop had its part to play.

How often is our appreciation for life a combination of the elements of the beauty I found on this beach?

As an art lover, often I would deem beautiful something skillfully arranged or assembled. Good room design or a beautiful work of art is contrived carefully to be aesthetically pleasing. It may be one reason we struggle with events in life or our relationships with others. We want a certain amount of order and control. But our control is limited, our knowledge finite, and our understanding of how things can be arranged for the most beautiful effect is warped by our love of the easy to grasp and our short term thinking. The complexity of randomness makes us feel small. But like the stones on this beach, life may be more beautiful because of our lack of power to arrange it as we see fit.

While we all avoid pain and brokenness with every bit of energy we have, we appreciate the beauty of it in light of context. The successes and triumphs are sweetened by it. How often have a person's actions made no sense to us until we heard more about their life. With context comes understanding.

We can control a lot. About our decisions, attitudes, and circumstances to a great extent. But we cannot, for all our planning, and thinking, and worrying make the life we want. Things happen. Good and bad will befall us and our attitude will play the biggest part in whether or not we learn and grow from those things. But instead of being filled with fear and distress about the uncontrollable, perhaps we should embrace the beautiful randomness that life sometimes sets before us.

Which stone has the more exciting life? The diamond in its perfect setting, under beautiful lighting, polished to perfection? Or these stones tossed about by wind and sea out in the unpredictable world of nature? It looks pretty exciting compared to a velvet box under a glass case. We so often choose the sheltered space, the safe bet, the comfortable and familiar. The beauty in the photo above is a result of the adventure each individual stone and shell has been on.

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