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Coffee with Warren: Not everything is beautiful

There is limits to what columnist Warren Harbeck finds to be beautiful, he says.
In his Nobel Prize Lecture, Alexander Solzhenitsyn lamented over an entertainment-addicted world only seeing that which is 'pretty.'

From my delight in finding beauty in unlikely places, readers of these columns might conclude that I would absolutely agree with Ray Stevens’ lyrics, “Everything is beautiful in its own way.” But there are limits, as Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn reminds us.

Before I go there, however, I’d like to share a few responses to last week’s column on finding beauty in mud splashes on the side of my car.

Cremona coffee companion Kathie Reid wrote: “I believe firmly in how God loves beauty simply as an expression of Himself. 

“Many years ago, I was browsing in the Alberta Provincial Museum in Edmonton and came across a room dedicated to bugs. On one wall was a panel of butterflies from around the world. It sent me to my knees! Thankfully, no one else was present. I was so overwhelmed with the glory in front of me I could hardly see the display through my streaming tears. Some of these butterflies were from such remote places they are rarely seen by humans. God makes them to please Himself, for His pleasure and as an expression of His glory.

“Of course, we see beauty in mud when we look for it! God’s creative hand is everywhere. Looking for beauty is one way to keep our spirits up through hard times. I’ll be taking a closer look at my bumper today!”

HR consultant Tami Leigh, of Calgary, responded:

“In line with this topic, we see at times our refusal to look at things from another perspective. What do we miss? Beauty? Serving? Friendship? Mostly we miss acceptance. Acceptance of things exactly as they are, as they are meant to be, gives us grace – a feeling of absolute awe over life’s beauty.

“If we could only change our perceptions of others, ourselves, or our circumstance, just imagine the treasures we would discover in our relationship with all things.”

And then from fellow columnist Ron Gobeil, of Parksville, B.C., this kind comment: “Amidst the chaos, you managed to find beauty. You have a great outlook, Warren.”

Thank you, Kathie, Tami and Ron. But your graciousness brings me back to Ray Stevens’ song and a potential misunderstanding about my delight in discovering beauty in unlikely places. I do not think everything is beautiful in its own way.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn spoke to this very point in his Nobel Prize Lecture for Literature, 1970, when he lamented over an entertainment-addicted world only seeing that which is “pretty.”

Such a misguided sense of values, he stressed, “would see a boggy swamp and exclaim, ‘What a charming little meadow!’ It would see a set of concrete shackles round a woman’s neck and exclaim, ‘What an exquisite necklace!’ And while some danced happy and carefree with songs and music, others shed tears which no hand could wipe away.”

Speaking to the artist/writer’s moral mandate, he concluded his Lecture with the Russian proverb, “One word of truth is of more weight than all the rest of the world.”

And yes, prioritizing truth over beauty, however painful that may be, leaves no room for whitewashing or sugar-coating evil. After all, not everything is beautiful.


© 2022 Warren Harbeck