The Guilt of Beauty

Five years ago, when Kent died, I felt like I had no right to beauty.

I used to love the gray and cloudy days. It appropriately reflected my sorrow. Noticing beauty made me feel guilty somehow.

I would look up at the sky and see the brightness of blue fade into the horizon line, and I would breathe it in. I would watch the soft mystery of clouds temper the geometry of trees, and I would breathe it in. Then I would stop myself.

What right did I have to experience this in a world without Kent? What right did IT have to even EXIST in a world without him? A small sob of guilt, a glance inward, and I would stare down at the ground where I thought my view belonged.

I am getting better at not only seeing beauty but letting it help heal me.

I was teaching high school when 9/11 happened. Everyone was distraught, kids were crying, crisis counselors came in, the televisions were turned off. I remember trying to soothe them. I remember saying, “No matter the tragedy, the world will go on–we will go on. Babies will still be born and people will still fall in love. We cannot forget the good.” I needed to open myself up to the possibility of good, and once I did that nature let me follow her.

Being outside helps me to remember to let in the magical. I went for a walk yesterday and the snow crunching sounded like the soundtrack to the the gray, wild skies. I was watching the ground and letting my mind wander to all kinds of sadness. “I have to watch the ground,” I thought, “if I don’t I’ll fall  on this mess of snow, ice, and mud.” Then I stopped. Then I looked up at the squirrel leaping through the bare trees. I heard the flow of the creek forcing its way through the ice. Of course I have to look down sometimes. But I can always stop, stop and look up.

Beauty will not be ignored for long.

“It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses. ”Colette

birdhouseThe guilt of beauty comes from a disconnection. We want to feel our pain–and we must–but watching a chickadee build a nest in the cheap, ornamental Home Goods birdhouse instead of the expensive made-to-order chickadee house also deserves a smile.

We cannot separate from the beautiful nature of this reality and expect to move through it in any healthy way. We have no right to ignore the aesthetic.

If I notice the clash of asphalt shadows with the morning sunlight snow, I am praying.

By living a writing life, I am giving thanks.

“For me it has become a life that awakens to birdsong in early morning, that lingers with sunlight in late afternoon. For me it is a life that slows down to touch each moment, a life that deepens from an inner source.” –Susan Tiberghien


I do not believe we are here to ignore our suffering, but we cannot be here to ignore living either.

What forms of guilt have you felt/are you feeling?
What happens when you take the time to notice beauty?


2 thoughts on “The Guilt of Beauty

  1. I love this. It reminds me of an Ojibwa expression. “Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while, a great wind carries me across the sky.”

Leave a Reply