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"Love is a Great Beautifier"

“Love is a great beautifier” (Little Women, Louisa May Alcott).


When was the last time, while observing or speaking with someone, you really honed in on their vitality, their own, individual beauty, and the life and love pulsing through them? It’s rare for me to remember, but I have a challenge that I occasionally enact upon myself, while listening to a person, to pay attention to their eyes: to notice the glorious flecks of color around their pupils, the individuality of their eyes, and to marvel over the miracle of this person, of every person. I know I should be listening to what they are saying, and I’m sure part of me is -- and probably nodding along, but a more focused part of me is locking in on the gift of this person, on their singularity and their own, personal beauty. It’s a little discipline that causes me to slow down for a minute and to appreciate not only the person before me, but human beings in general. It’s a reminder that we are all everyday miracles walking around fretting over traffic, worrying (or preferably praying) over our children or our jobs or our partners, and always trying to stay a few steps ahead of whatever might be coming next. As I take in the singularity of a human life before me, I pay homage to what Dylan Thomas gorgeously described as “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” I acknowledge the glory of the force, the Creative Being, who animates this person.

In my previous post, I shared Denise Levertov’s poem “Translucence,” which refers to “unconscious light in faces” she believes “are holy, not quite transparent, more like the half-opaque whiteness of Japanese screens or lampshades.” She describes the countenance of these holy people to be made of thinnest paper “which permits the passage of what is luminous.” It is the light, she concludes, “of the already resurrected.” I have known people who I find difficult to take my eyes off of not because of an obvious physical attractiveness but because of a kind of holiness that they exude or, and often simultaneously, because of the love that glows from within them.

Louisa May Alcott wrote in “Little Women,” that “love is a great beautifier.” We all know that a person in the early days of romantic love tends to give off a radiance, but I think that this observation has far wider application. Emanuel Swedenborg captures the confluence of love and light in the face, describing, “Goodness and love mold the form into their own image, and cause joy and beauty of love to shine forth from every part of the face. When this form of love is seen, it appears ineffably beautiful, and affects with delight the inmost life of the soul.” Sarah W. Stephen conveyed how this process worked within a person she knew, “The soul within had so often lighted up her countenance with its own full happiness and joy, that something of a permanent radiance remained upon it.” When we embody joy and love, we cannot help but glow, and we cannot help but be beautiful.

In her essay, “Modern Fiction,” Virginia Woolf (who, with her magnificent mind could certainly have chosen cerebral connections with others over more loving bonds), quotes from “The Village Priest and Other Stories,” by Elena Militsina and Mikhail Saltikov, “Learn to make yourself akin to people… But let this sympathy be not with the mind - for it is easy with the mind - but with the heart, with love towards them.” James Pierrepont Greaves admonishes, “We should arrive at fullness of love extending to the whole creation, a desire to impart, to pour out in full and copious streams the love and goodness we bear to all around us.”

Have you noticed that our world lately seems to be getting uglier? I cannot remember a more ugly time in my forty-two years in this world than the past five or six years in terms of the way people treat each other, people’s attitudes, and the state of our nation in terms of its hateful divides. We are becoming ever more disconnected from our love for each other as human beings inherently worthy of love, regardless of political position, race, sexual identification, socioeconomic status, religion, and culture. And the result is pretty difficult to look at. It repulses and turns the stomach. It increases anxiety, which makes it no wonder that anxiety is at an all-time high in our country. It’s also the opposite of Jesus’s example which was an unwavering message of selfless love, forbearance, and rejection of self-righteous judgement. “Let He who is without sin cast the first stone,” are not the words of a holier-than-thou Pharisee but the words of a wise, spiritually grounded, expansive, vessel of love on earth. The more we strive to be the same, the more we beautify the world around us without any striving, any manipulation, any contention. It costs us no money, though it will likely cost us some pride and self-importance.

The secret of acquiring the Midas touch -- the touch that renders everything into gold -- is love. We get confused and think the Midas touch has to do with striving and somehow wrangling at least an appearance of ongoing success. We think if only we could be more competent or increase our competencies. If only we could earn more money. We think it has to do with charm and wit and humor. We decide, “Well, he lives a charmed life because he is so charming.” “She can think fast on her feet and is great with one-liners.” “He knows how to finagle his way into people’s good graces.” “She knows how to juggle everything with good time management and a lot more energy than I have.” We think there must be a manipulative, exhausting, or hard-driving element to turning things to gold around us. But ultimately, it is love that does the job. And the gold that is produced by all of these other efforts often proves a false treasure, a fool’s good.

Some days, as I go into school to teach and help students be savvy researchers and passionate readers, I determine that it is enough simply to love my students that day. If I do nothing else but to love them, I can feel good at least about that. Maya Angelou famously said, ”I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”Some days, it’s good enough just to be loving, just to love whomever is put before your path. In truth, it’s better than good enough. It is, in fact, what matters most.


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