Brassia maculata ‘Majus’ (Spider Orchids)
I spent a long time at the botanical garden last Tuesday – because it was my last visit of the season and I had a hard time saying good-bye. After my ginger limeade and chocolate chip scone, I started for the exit and realized that I hadn’t visited the orchids. I was really tired and there were a lot of people but I couldn’t walk past and possibly miss a new one – one I hadn’t noticed before or had just been added.
I moseyed around, took some photos with the less-than-optimal care that comes when my body is tired and my brain is foggy. I was reaching the end when I spied this beauty and tried to identify the best way to capture its uniqueness. I wasn’t very successful, because I can only show you by using three images.
It seems like some things are beautiful because of their simplicity. In many ways I’m simple and enjoy simple beauty. But sometimes the beauty comes from complexity, and those things I enjoy spending time with, pondering.
This one stopped us. We picked yesterday for our weekly photo shoot because it was the only day that promised sunshine. Reality required that we delay departure for an hour because of icy roads and there were heavy clouds – all day – not a single ray of sunshine.
We hung on to the hope that the clouds would clear, and headed to the northwest. We haven’t spent time in this area and found lots of dirt roads we didn’t know existed. There were many interesting subjects, mostly barns, but we passed on by because we agreed they needed a spot of evening or morning sun. We hope we remember how to find them again.
This two-story house stopped us – we lingered with the car running – we talked about it – we opened the doors to the cold and grabbed our cameras. This building has character that was enhanced by the cloudy day.
We spent some time discussing why some dilapidated buildings have character and others don’t. I’m intrigued with this idea of aging with character – probably because I am aging and I want to do it with grace and character.
There is definitely different criteria for beauty when we age – with associated challenges. I see so many faces that don’t fit our standard for human beauty (young and new, for starters) but have character and within that character have beauty. I find it hard to see beauty in my aging face when anti-aging serums are hawked by 20-somethings. Did I fail to use the right products so my face wouldn’t have wrinkles, “aging” spots, and stray hairs?
Maybe this house has character because it has some adornment. It is on the same property, close to the owners and it seems like they have staged this falling down structure – just a little bit. They seem to love it – and seem proud of it. It feels cared for in a subtle sort of way.
I don’t see aged beauty in faces and bodies that are overly kept. Lots of make-up, gold, diamonds, and elegant (expensive) clothing that are used to cover signs of aging seem to also disguise character. Maybe this is an unfair cultural issue as I’m not from a wealthy background. Maybe what I look for is authenticity, being true to who we are. This home was never big and grand – but being true to it’s humble background, it has character. We also saw a very large, grand old home that was crumbling. It had authenticity and character and beauty (but needed a touch of sun to highlight color). I feel comfortable with people from all stations of life and see beauty in their faces and bodies if they are being authentic – if they have pride in where they came from and confidence in who they are.
Character can come from having a past, maybe even some hints at secrets that aren’t totally divulged. I didn’t notice the stones on the ledge of this upstairs window until I was post-processing it. How did they get there, what is their meaning? How are these remnants of the past maintained while the structure collapses?
The aging friends who I enjoy the most are those who have had a past filled with joy and pain, excitement and tedium – and they aren’t afraid to look at their past straight on. They are confident because they embrace both successes and failures in their past. They are transparent but know when not to divulge. We seem to like a sense of mystery, don’t we.
What is interesting is that we are always becoming. This brings a sense of excitement to me as I am living this day. There will be new challenges and I will need to learn how to live into them with integrity. Julie and I talked about how nature, and also structures built with natural materials, eventually are reclaimed by the earth. This building is being reclaimed and I know my body will also someday be reclaimed by the earth and that is as it should be. This doesn’t seem morbid or depressing because I know my spirit will live on in the lives of the people I have touched.
And I remember my faith story at this season of Christmas. I have found no better model for living than the story of Christ’s life here on earth and the promises he made to me about death. This old house touched me, and maybe I don’t have to worry about having character as long as I maintain loving relationships and live true to my faith.
I have been thinking about beauty and started reading J. Ruth Gendler’s book Notes on the Need for Beauty: An Intimate Look at an Essential Quality. I have picked up another of her books, The Book of Qualities, several times over the past 15 years because of her artful use of metaphor to introduce us to human qualities, such as beauty and faith and anxiety, as if they are people we know. Of course we know them, but usually we are too busy with living to look them in the eye and really know them.
I know, on an intellectual level, that feeling beautiful becomes an issue as our bodies age, but I am surprised at how much I am impacted. I have always been a very low maintenance person and was never described as a beauty. I never relied on props like a lot of makeup and fancy clothes. I remember moving my physical body through life with confidence that it would serve me well. I believed that other characteristics, such as kindness, integrity, faith, love, and intelligence, were more important than beauty. What do I do now that I can no longer move my body with confidence? What do I do now that my body no longer feels whole and functional?
I know, on an emotional level, that I need to and will work this out for myself. We all need to. But I also know that I don’t have to work it out alone. As I read and ponder I will undoubtedly write because writing helps me maintain my wholeness, centeredness and now, my beauty.
I remember my mother telling me about hearing thumps after putting me down to sleep in my crib when I was a little tyke. Several thumps until they had to push the crib up next to the bed. It was me hitting the floor after climbing over the rails. Maybe I fell on my head a few too many times, but I seem to have a hard time understanding my reflection.
I started thinking about my reflection because frequently my photographs of reflections on water turn out differently than I see them in my lens. After I do a little post-processing, I see reflections that are brighter and more vivid than I remember seeing with my naked eye. Sometimes I am surprised by the moment my camera captured, because it is different than the moving reflections my eye was seeing.
I wonder what I reflect back to others when they look at me. What do others see in those few seconds in which we connect? Obviously they can’t see the lifetime of me’s lived day to day. I don’t want them to see the snarky, mean times when I didn’t feel good, was too tired, or was wounded and wanted to fight back. Only the people who have lived with me a long time have seen those parts – the ones I feel guilty and shameful about.
I want to reflect something different. I want to reflect beauty and joy and acceptance. The joy is easy for me because most of the time I do feel a sense of joy at being alive and making my way through life. Yes I have had my times of gut wrenching sadness and pain. I know others do too and I respect their times. But it is nice to be happy and to share happiness with others. You know, to spread it around.
Most of the time acceptance is also easy. I used to be more judgmental and I know that showed in my voice and actions but as I have grown older I am finding that I have a greater capacity to accept people as they are. Professionally I learned that the more I was able to see inside a person’s psyche, the more I was able to overlook their faults and irritating behavior. Isn’t it strange that the more I saw the parts they wanted to keep hidden, the more I was able to love them. I want people to experience acceptance so they will be able to love their hurt and ‘ugly’ parts in the same way that I am able love them. Is it possible… can I also reflect acceptance to the person serving up my mocha latte or bagging my groceries? Will they feel it and accept it?
The hardest to understand is beauty. I think this is hardest because when I look at myself in the mirror I don’t see beauty. What I see is a woman who is growing older and has put on too much weight in all the wrong places. Okay, so there weren’t any “good” places for those fat cells to settle, but you get the picture. My internal image is still the under 50 person who was tall and thin – but this isn’t what my shadow and reflection shows me.
I have read the psychology books and know that beauty is important. Beautiful children get more attention. I also know a lot of people who are not physically beautiful but are very beautiful people. What is it that radiates out from them that makes them so beautiful? How do some people radiate so much beauty that we feel beautiful in their presence? I think I am going to have to think about this. I think I can learn a life lesson as I look for beauty through my lens, especially in reflections.
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