Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Tales From the Road - Strength and Beauty
As my regular readers and friends know, I travel a lot in my work. Sometimes I stay in places where I can go out and explore, and sometimes I'm in cities and countries where I can go out and about, but only unarmed. For such places, I stay in after dark, not spending my money at local businesses, hesitant to venture out as a female alone, after sunset in an unfamiliar area, armed only with a pack of breath mints.
Such evening aren't always so bad. I'll perhaps have a simple dinner of cheese, crackers, an apple and a glass of wine. Then later, with tea and crime scene yellow jammies, I'll write a couple of posts to save up for days when I'm too busy for thoughts outside the tape.
There was an evening like that not long ago, when settling in and unpacking I found a surprise. Although some of the crackers I packed in my computer bag were crumbs, in the bottom, unharmed, was a small bowl made from the shell of a moon snail. It's delicate, yet it survived the flight. I'd forgotten it was in there, placed when I recently moved and found it after the boxes were already packed.
On my desk are the shells of moon snails, this one of which was cut in half to form a dish. The Greek philosopher Aristotle, while still a young man, first scientifically chronicled this strange little mollusk when he came upon it little during a 2-year sojourn on the island of Lesbos. In classifying this tiny creature, he wrote in De Partibus Animilium, "In all of nature there is something of the marvelous, even the tiny, legless sea urchin."
I agree with Aristotle in this, for in examining the shell, the empty remnant of this ungainly and indelicate creature. There is surprising power and beauty in such small things. I see a delicate brush of blue sky, grayish tones that bleed into fragile whites. If I was in the mood to paint, especially if I was painting water, I'd capture it with items flung down by its force. Alone on a wind swept landscape, I'd reference my subjects with pieces of wood, position them in delicate frames of dying leaves. Here, held captive as well by of those who have left, in my minds eye I paint evidence of those departures . . . prints in the sand, ghost feet of little creatures, searching, the rushing feet of playful lovers, the footprints dissipating with the surge of water. There, seen at the waters edge, the soft clawed paths of a predator looking for prey, following the single footprints of a lone woman who followed the wandering path a moon snail might have left behind.
Strength is not always in a form that is familiar. Beauty is composed of more than you think. Both are built of more than meets the eye. It has as much to do with strength inward as strength outward. Though what we see before us holds allure, still in the evidence of what has been lost, is even greater beauty, greater courage. In even the smallest of things. In even those small remembrances of that which has gone, is the delicate moon snail's whorls of light and gray, the colors of the heavens. Tints of purity and substance. A strength that survived security screening, being stuffed into a too small space aloft and 4 hours of technical meetings. Small, strong colors to be captured while I continue on my own meandering journey.
There is beauty without strength, but there is seldom strength without its own beauty, a resolution of being that pervades the air with the scent and echo of the force of a life. As the invisible cloak of my duty slips from my form and I sit down in the chair by the window I see it. Not simply a city where I can not walk in safety under the moon, but my reflection in the glass, water streaming down, a city's tears for the defenseless.
Strength is not always where you expect it. Sometimes even in a city you can see it, in the eyes of a woman looking out at the night sky, unarmed but not willing to give up the fight. Look past the delicacy and the fragile form, there you will see it, the purity of will, the strength that will surprise you.