Beauty and Time

Avatar of Eli Knisbacher
Opinion Column

An ethereal magnolia dances in the wind. It sways and bows as its petals pirouette and its leaves sashay. As the magnolia laughs, tickled by the wind, it frees a petal. And with the petal floats an aroma: faint yet sweet. But with time the aroma fades and the wind loses interest. The magnolia was but a dream.

While dreaming, we witness beauty beyond eyesight. But when our eyes open, we limit ourselves. We think beauty exists only in sunsets and smiles and soulful steel-blue eyes. By contrast, coffee and computers and the ever-unfurling road — the day-to-day — seem ugly. And the ugly is rarely looked at. But in looking away, we forget. We forget about the present moment and spiral into the past and future. We don’t notice the mourning doves lining roofs as we drive to school. We don’t hear them cry for the magnolia, and unheard, their cries cease to be beautiful.

In noticing beauty, we bring it into existence. Unwitnessed sunsets lack beauty, for beauty is in the beholder’s eye. And beauty dies as eye contact breaks. But in witnessing a sunset, we experience beauty, and as the beauty did not previously exist, we create it.

Yet beauty cannot exist without time, for beauty is fleeting. Sunsets are beautiful because they fade into dusks, and summer is beautiful because it freezes into winter. Removed from time, a perpetual sunset would become trite and perpetual summer would become bland. Beauty can be found only in that which will die and is subject to change. And only we who will die, who are subject to change, can find beauty.

We, fearing death, attempt to seize the moment, but we fail. We pine for money and fame, thinking they lead to happiness. We try to become immortal by giving birth and writing books. We fear all forms of change, not just death. But we are also drawn to change. Only objects subject to change are beautiful, and to truly seize the moment is to search for beauty. Searching for physical beauty leads us to oceans and mountains and oases. Searching for beauty of mind and heart leads us to love. We search for beauty because we fear dying.

Further, because of time, we die. Beauty, thus, exists because of time. It is not defined by properties of objects, for pretty objects remind us to look, but looking, in and of itself, creates beauty. When we choose to look, we free ourselves from samsara, the Buddhist cycle of suffering. We are freed from schedules and deadlines and our tumultuous lives to focus on the present. And in focusing on the present, we stop time. Time follows our eyes, and envelopes that which we are beholding. It then radiates warmth and sanctity from that object. We perceive this radiance as beauty.

Essentially, beauty is nature’s clock. With each tick, a fawn is born and a doe dies. After each tick, the magnolia’s petals shift from milky coral to mystic amethyst under a darkening sky. Each tick represents one less day to live, and a new twenty-four hours to find beauty in the day-to-day: to find beauty in time.