In difficult times it is challenging to notice beauty. We may dwell on the unfairness of life, or use our critical thinking skills to try and “fix” what is wrong in our lives. We may engage in endless thought loops that question, “What went wrong?” These activities can lead to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
Poets have long extolled the power of beauty. Studies have shown that simply focusing on nature’s beauty can relieve stress, bring us greater peace of mind, and restore our mental and physical health (The Experience of Nature, by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan).
The healing power of beauty was proven to me when I visited my father this past week. He is very ill, and I traveled to California with dread in my heart at the sorrow and pain I would confront.
While the dramatic change in my father made me very sad, I was lucky to discover beauty, which brought me joy, inside a cancer treatment center.
Beauty Doesn’t Only Exist In Nature
It didn’t start out as a promising place. The department where radiation treatments are administered appears austere. There is a patient waiting room containing cubby holes with patient names on the outside and blue robes on the inside. The patient changes, then waits in a small common area in full view of the “radiation room”, which has a big illuminated sign reading, “Beam on” while someone is receiving treatment. When the light goes off, the next patient knows it will be their turn.
Monday was my dad’s first treatment and while he didn’t say so, he was nervous. His blue robe gapped open slightly, revealing circles and exes in black marker on his chest where they will direct the beams in hopes of slowing the cancer’s progress. He looked down at the floor until it was his turn to go in. He’d already had an earlier procedure that morning and was feeling beaten up.
After he went in for treatment, a man came in who had lost his hair, most of his teeth, and appeared to weigh 90 pounds. We started talking, and he said he was a therapist who had been diagnosed with jaw cancer shortly after relocating from Seattle. His wife had mentioned to a couple of their new neighbors that he would need six weeks of radiation, five times a week, and the challenge that presented since she had to work full time.
He said within four days, word spread and the community responded with people – mostly strangers – covering the daily hour drive for the duration of the treatments. He remarked that before he became ill, he had no idea of the human capacity for kindness.
I mentioned that this was my dad’s first radiation treatment. When this man saw him exit the treatment room – slightly weaving with his hair disheveled– he stood up and started applauding, yelling: “Way to go!” The radiologist chimed in and put his arm around my father.
My dad looked up and his confused eyes focused for a minute. He smiled broadly at the acknowledgement. It was just the encouragement his spirit needed. Later that night, he remarked to me, “Well, that wasn’t so bad.”
The inn where I stayed included a quote each morning along with the breakfast pastries. It was perfectly timed for that day: Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart. – Kahlil Gibran
Where can you find beauty in your current situation?