Sunday, April 22, 2012

On Beauty, Part Three

It is springtime in Cincinnati and the black locust trees are in bloom.

If you were visiting here, you might hardly notice them. Black locusts are not majestic trees. They are not the showstoppers that a cherry or a dogwood is. They do not have the regal height of an oak or maple, or the symmetry of a Bartlett pear. More than once I have stopped, startled, when I notice the trailing white blossoms of a black locust and thought, "Wait a minute - that tree blooms?"

But their smell is deep and intoxicating. It is sweetness with layers and depth, a breath of richness and variety at the time of year when the honeysuckle overwhelms everything.

I like the block locust. It has a beauty you can miss. You have to be mindful enough to look for it.

After our month of vanlessness and our new routine of walking to and from the bus stop, I have been noticing more about the fleeting beauty of the neighborhood. Every bloom lasts for such a short time, and I have often been too hurried to notice it. The redbuds this year were early and gorgeous, and the one dogwood on our street is a poem, as it is every spring. How do I not stand on the sidewalk and gather it all in? What could possibly be more important?

Old people understand this better than young people. The grandmother on the park bench is less impressed with what our efforts accomplish, so she pauses those efforts to watch the world. The world will put on a show, even if it plays to an empty house.

Beauty is not only something that engenders envy and hate, whatever the internet says. Beauty delights. The curve of a youthful cheek, such a brief and transitory thing, is a joy to behold, even when my own cheek is beginning to pouch. My eye rejoices in it. Envy is a thing that stomps out and mutilates, crippling our own capacity for joy. Envy shouts with Stalinesque brutality that if I can't have it, no one must have it, and how dare you display it. But it would be terrible tragedy - incomprehensibly awful - if the trim waist of a teenage girl disappeared from the world because I had a baby, or the bright sheen of her hair dimmed because mine went grey.

In the mercy of God, we cannot accomplish this, even at our most hateful. There is always another spring. The black locust trees reach out again with their scent, saying, Stop and turn around. There is something here to see. The girls grow taller and more still, the boys' shoulders broaden, and another generation of perfect human beauty puts on its show, while the grandmothers watch in the park and smile behind their hands.


  1. Wise thoughts, as usual.

    Did you know that those beautiful blooms are edible? Try them sometime, if you can reach them. I enjoy the romance of eating flowers, and they actually taste good. I was in France once when the black locusts there were blooming. It was a curious tie to home, eating flowers on a sidewalk in Paris that I have also eaten on a dirt road in rural Indiana.

  2. Well, this is just wonderful.

  3. I love this.
    Love! It's always a pleasure to visit here.