“That is not a tree. I asked you to draw a tree.” My life as a writer began on my eighth birthday with these words of admonishment by my art teacher. Mrs. Brubaker hovered over my interpretation of a redwood like a hawk, my hand nervously clutching a crayon at her demand. The tone of her voice echoes within me even today: I am a lousy artist.
Today is my 63rd birthday, and I sit at my desk in a cabin amidst deep woods on a panoramic ridge line. Surrounded by woodland and meadow gardens, my daily life is immersed in putting what I see as beauty into words.
Confucius reminds us: Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it. In a sense, Mrs. Brubaker’s caustic observation gave me a lifelong gift. Her sternness was blind to the deeper quality of a child’s purity of intention. As an artist, I was forever wounded; as a writer, I was set free. If she had asked me to write about a tree, she might have seen the world through wholly different eyes.
I know this because my name is Forrest, and my awe and wonder for trees has been an incessant adventure, with intimate climbing forays up limb-ladders to perch like an eagle at their tops. When I attempted to draw a tree, it was more difficult than to describe it. So, writing became my everyday art project, and the quest for beauty found refuge in words.
I worked my way through college using my talent for guitar playing to teach others. Part of my joy was teaching guitar to the blind. I realized that a guitar is a marvelous braille board of sorts, givens its raised frets and strings and sound that provide immediate tactile response. There was a quote on the wall in my instruction room, by the gifted (and blind) Helen Keller:
The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched,
they must be felt with the heart.
That quote has been a lamplight in my quest for beauty. It is beauty in words. It gives inspiration to any person who feels they are less than others make them to be. It gives us permission to rise above our limitations and journey with our heart’s intent intact. It reminds us that beauty is a feeling, and how we express beauty or view it is nonnegotiable, as far as the heart is concerned. To the blind, beauty gives our heart (and words!) glasses.
Oh, how Mrs. Brubaker had it all wrong! Beauty is inescapable, if it is viewed with an open, reverent, unjudging heart. It is found in everything: nature, people, art, architecture, animals, cultures, religions, and words. She did not understand that if we but change our words, we can change our world.
It is not by coincidence that today I reflect upon beauty, blindness, nature, and the generous heart. A friend emailed me the following award-winning short film, entitled The Power of Words. Upon viewing it I could not help but ponder that so much of our chaotic, angst-ridden, fearful life today has blinded us to life’s inherent beauty. It is as if we are fish caught in a pool of activity and experiences, the last thing of which we discover is water.
We are all on a quest for meaning in our life. We all have the potential to be blind and out of touch with our heart. Beauty is not just evident in the physical. We can swim amidst beautiful thoughts, expressions, feelings, words, and kind deeds. Everyday beauty, from the simple and overlooked to the sublime, is freeing of life’s suffering. To witness and express beauty can give us an island of grace at a precious moment in the day. It can give us a momentary sanctuary of peace that may be long-lasting.
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Copyright 2011, C. Forrest McDowell, PhD