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"Wrestling with God: Stories of Doubt and Faith" book cover with photo of author Barbara Falconer Newhall

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A Case of the Human Condition: Beauty — What to Do About It

In Bangkok, Thailand, a handmade hatBy Barbara Falconer Newhall

I confess, I’m not very good at being in the moment, even if — especially if — the moment is a nice one. If I’m having a good time, my mind tends to lurch into the future to the day when this loveliness will be no more. My thoughts sink into nostalgia and sadness at the knowledge that everything ends, especially, it seems,  the really good stuff.

Be alive to the moment. Be present to the holiness of this place. Buddhism recommends this. Modern psychology encourages it. Christianity and Judaism know about it. (“Be still and know that I am God.”) In my opinion, it’s what Edna St. Vincent Millay was thinking when she wrote “Renascence:”

God, I can push the grass apart, And lay my finger on Thy heart!

The physical therapist reiterates it as she contemplates my overstressed and overdeveloped trapesezius  muscles. I gotta do it, she tells me. Relax those muscles. Let go of that anxiety. Be in the moment. Be here now.

But — and here comes the big but — when I encounter something beautiful, I can’t seem to The frescoed ceiling of the Duomo, Florencejust sit there and be with it. For reasons I don’t understand (yet) I am greedy and grasping when it comes to beauty.

An exquisitely foggy day in the canyon behind my house? A star magnolia blossom battered by yesterday’s rain? Across the Bay in Marin county, a footpath cutting into the steep western flank of Mount Tamalpais? In Florence, the Last Judgement frescoed onto the interior of the Duomo? On a scorching, sun-pierced day in Bangkok, a Thai peddler offering me a hat?

In each instance, I feel I must do something about this wondrous event. Make it last. Make it mine. And so, like a lot of people, I get out the camera and take a picture.

What you see posted here, therefore, is the work of a greedy woman, a person who can’t get enough of that wonderful stuff, beauty. Right now, however, I’m not regretting my greed. As I upload these photos, one at a time, I notice myself lingering over them, studying them, savoring them. I am lost in the moment.

lcanyon-trees-fog-beautyrain-battered-magnolia-beautyWalking Mt. Tam in spring



  1. […] If this story caught your attention, you might enjoy reading “The Writing Room: To Niche or Not to Niche” or “Beauty, What to Do About It.” […]

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