I just finished a novel I loved. Not a volume I hoped would be funnier, more insightful or deeper, but a wonderfully satisfying tale about an interesting character who possessed humorous insights and rich details to share about the adventure of life. I loved the book and hated for it to end. It taught me something about life I had not known and it was not necessary to groan my way through some labyrinthine tome but provided insight through the most entertaining of mediums: a story! The narrator of the tale is a middle-aged man living in New York City disdainfully working for an advertising company. He is in love with his young assistant with whom he has playful interactions over the telephone. Between them they have this “bit” they share in the midst of their daily communications: they call it, “one beautiful thing.”
Each day they would tell one another one beautiful thing they had seen or experienced. It was often something mundane or seemingly innocuous. However, knowing they must recount the one beautiful thing each day gave them a heightened sense of awareness in their surroundings and the interactions of the people around them. What a hopeful quest – each day to seek that one thing of beauty, courage, kindness or eloquence that lifts you. I suspect we are becoming increasingly blind to the search for beauty with our splintering attention spans and unquenchable thirst for instant gratification. And yet, even in our busy and distracted world there are examples of generosity, abundance and wonder. With this action in mind I was walking in the charming downtown district of the town where I live and noticed an elderly gentleman sitting contentedly in front of a small coffee shop. He was not poking at a hand-held technological device, he did not appear lonely, rather he was sitting with his legs propped up upon the empty chair in front of him with his face lifted up to the fall sunlight. When I glanced at him he smiled at me in such a way as if to say, “isn’t this the life, sitting in the sun with a perfect cup of coffee.” Observing such simple contentment is my one beautiful thing today.
I wonder if each of us were responsible for reporting the one beautiful thing we see or experience each day, if we would not find ourselves less pessimistic, less aggravated, more in love with the life we are given as an unpredictable present that opens in unexpected ways to test our endurance and ingenuity.Who can know what goes on in someone else’s life? In their worries and fears and hopes. Their history and pain. Who knows the quiet joy that one might feel in the quotidian thing, the nothing thing: a child’s evening bath, volunteering at a soup kitchen, walking the dog when the family is asleep, the neighborhood quiet, a cigarette smoked alone. Lunch with a favorite coworker. Who can know the little worlds of beauty we try desperately to guard during the onslaught: watching your wife go through chemo; your father waste away from Alzheimer’s; your sister relapse into alcoholism. The simple truth is that we know nothing about the inner life of the person sitting next to us on the plane, in the subway, the car behind us in traffic. We know nothing unless we choose to listen. Quiet desperation? What about quiet resilience. Quiet courage. Quiet hope. ~ John Kenny