Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
– From Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
I’m Hugh Hollowell, and this is Life is So Beautiful, a newsletter about finding the beauty in the world around you, even when it feels like the whole world has stopped.
My wife and I were talking last night about how, for us personally, our life feels both completely normal and totally unhinged. We are both pretty introverted, I have an office in my home, and when I’m not there, most of my work is on an urban farm with 1 or 2 other people. She is a stay at home mom these days and being immunosuppressed after her heart transplant, we are both super-aware of germs and live with the fear of catching things.
We also miss family dinners out in restaurants. Face to face meetings in coffee shops. Family outings to the museum or the movies. The pleasure of shopping for groceries and it not feel like The Hunger Games. Browsing a bookstore for hours while sipping a hot chocolate. Sharing a meal with friends. Going to church.
It turns out, Sartre was only half right. Hell IS other people. But so is heaven.
I was talking to a friend the other day about this huge slowdown and wondered out loud what of this will stick after it is over. Will all of us who made our own bread keep doing it? Folk who are now cooking regularly, some for the first time in their lives, will they continue? Will we keep doing video meetings? Will more people work from home than before, now that we have proven we can?
One thing I hope sticks in my personal life is the long walks the 7-year-old and I have been going on each day. We walk about a mile each day around our neighborhood as a way to give me some exercise and to spend his pent-up energy. While you would suspect it would be boring, walking in a given neighborhood every day, in fact the opposite is happening – we are coming to know it in new ways.
We are telling stories and sharing memories of the people who live in the houses whose occupants we know, and making up stories about the occupants of the houses where we don’t. He can now not only tell you the difference between wisteria and azaleas, but he will tell you why wisteria is pretty to look at but bad for the environment. There is a creek that crosses our neighborhood, and we manage to cross it three times each day in our walks. And when we see our neighbors and friends in their yards, we stand an appropriate distance and pass the day.
I really hope this keeps up. It’s the best part of my day.
What are you doing now that you hope you sustain after this is over?
Five Beautiful Things
- There have been so many examples of artists sharing their work from home – here is Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Instagram account, where he is playing requests on his piano in his living room, with occasional cameo appearances by his dog.
- As humans quit moving about, the rewilding of the world has begun.
- Roy Davis is a sculptor who makes wooden movement machines. I profile a lot of art in this here letter, but I would buy one of these in a heartbeat (if I had an extra $3,000).
- This time-lapse of a sunflower is simple and mesmerizing.
- Thai fruit carving is a thing. I love the sheer amount of effort that goes into creating something so delicate and beautiful that has a life expectancy measured in hours.
I have been loving the collections of artistic and cultural enrichment ideas everyone is posting – here is a huge one, with lots of amazing links and sources. If we are only going to be traveling whilst sitting on our couch for the foreseeable future, at least we can see beautiful, amazing things.
It’s long and heavy, but somewhat hopeful. This article, Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance, does a good job of showing why we have to stop the world if we want to survive this current epidemic. Basically, we are buying time.
Despite launching it at the worst time in human history to launch something new, I am heartened by the response to my second newsletter, Hopeful Resistance. Because I have learned nothing about timing, I am launching yet another new thing next week! Patrons will learn about it this weekend, but the rest of you will have to wait until next week. After a winter full of depression and slog, it feels good to be creating again.
* * *
Well, that is it for this week. I hope you have a great week, and that your life is filled with beautiful things. If you see something beautiful this week, I hope you will let me know about it, and if one of my five I shared today struck you in a special way, I hope you will let me know about that, too.
If you want to support this project, you can sign up to be a Patron or buy me a book or forward this email to your friends. And if someone did forward this to you, you can get your own subscription here.