A Thing of Beauty
Who said that? A thing of beauty is a joy forever? John Keats, that’s who. We use this phrase so often in our consumer crazed lives. I know I have. In fact, here is my thing of beauty:
Oh my, oh my, how I loved my red Thunderbird. Just seeing it in my driveway gave me a rush of pleasure. The hard top was removable and it was pure adrenalin to drive it around town with my hair blowing in the wind, radio turned up loud, and heater on if need be. I enjoyed the Florida experience so much that when I found that no license plate is required on the front of the car in Florida, I had a front plate made that said “SPF 0” . . . a perfect foil for listening to the Beach Boys. I planned all the great trips I was going to take in the T Bird: a picnic to the beach, a trip to Key West, driving through the Ocala Forest, and just driving back and forth to the grocery. Somehow I just never got around to those fabulous trips to the beach or Key West. The store, yes. Fun? Not so much.
A joy forever? Unfortunately, not so much as well. New opening for my novel:
It was a dark and stormy night (thinking Snoopy?). The highway was rain-slicked as he navigated his way home from work. In the midst of the interstate traffic, the exit sign glowed up ahead like a beacon. As he passed the car in the right lane, he felt that sudden moment of anxiety as the car lost traction. Slipping, slipping, slipping away! He braked but the car had a mind of her own. In Christine-like fashion, she slid quickly to the right, pummeling into the right guard rail. Angry at the offending metal, she crossed three lanes of traffic, banging into the left guard rail. The force of her wrath sent her back across the dangerous, deadly three lanes to slam herself into the right guard rail again. She was avenged, ravaged but victorious. The guard rail was demolished. Crawling from the wreckage, he called home. “Mom, I think I just totaled your T-bird.”
What was Keats thinking? A joy forever? Not so much. For sure. Mos def. Not forever. In a moment of Zen, I realized that the voice on the end of the phone was infinitely more important than a car. In a moment of Zen I thought of the first mark of existence in the Buddhist tradition: impermanence. Nothing is permanent. In a moment of Zen I experience the second mark of existence: suffering. I felt a deep pang not so much for the loss of “my precious” but for the anguished voice on the phone. In a moment of Zen I thought of the third mark of existence: non-self. This car, which seemingly has a foxy personality, is really not a person. It has no self. In a moment of Zen, I realized that these three practices enable a person to find peace. In the midst of a scary, costly, disappointing moment, I found peace: my REAL precious was okay. My beautiful son had only a scratch on his arm from the impact of inflating airbags.
Keats was not as non-Zen as he sounds. His things of beauty, which do not last forever, are replenished daily. New wonders surround as trees bloom and birds fly. Old wonders sustain as the sun sets, the moon rises and the tides rule the beaches. For your edification, here is the first stanza of the poem by John Keats, Endymion:
- A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
- Its loveliness increases; it will never
- Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
- A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
- Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
- Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
- A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
- Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
- Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
- Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
- Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
- Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
- From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
- Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
- For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
- With the green world they live in; and clear rills
- That for themselves a cooling covert make
- ‘Gainst the hot season; the mid forest brake,
- Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
- And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
- We have imagined for the mighty dead;
- All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
- An endless fountain of immortal drink,
- Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.
May we all open our eyes to the daily joys and wonders, the sweet dreams and sighs of lovers, the hugs from our children, the tears of our best friends. Nothing lasts forever, so grab it with gusto . . . and know when to let go.