Beauty Unperceived

By E. Harley

It was a beautiful midwinter day in Pretoria. The sun shone warmly, yet the air was crisp. It called us outdoors, and finding this irresistible, a friend and I went for a walk up a small hill. In sharp contrast to the beauty of the day was the hill we were climbing. Everywhere around us the grass was a drab dun color, as though smeared with a dirty brush. I remarked on this to my friend who, in reply, drew from his vest a pocket microscope. Bending down, he picked some of the ugly-colored growth and handed it to me with the microscope, showing me how to stand so that the sun fell directly on the plant and reflected from the microscope. I could hardly believe my eyes, for suddenly I was looking at a cluster of shining miniature flowers of exquisite and delicate color. Specimen after specimen he picked, and I gazed in amazement at pale mauves and yellows and pinks, of a delicacy which no ordinary garden could boast. Beautiful fronds of fernlike grace unfolded themselves in an evanescent green which did not seem possible when looking at the hillside. It seemed strange that so much beauty should be so hidden, a secret life carried on by nature beneath a drab exterior.

Some days later, while I was at the clinic where I worked, a woman entered with three children. Her hair hung in untidy wisps round a face whose uncared-for skin looked dried and dull. Her unlovely figure was tied in the middle, and overflowed freely above and below the only constriction of her apparel. She sat down and waited her turn with the patience of the poor. The children gradually gathered courage and roamed around the waiting room, making bolder explorations as time went by. Suddenly the little girl, in a too ambitious attempt to climb from a chair to a large table, overbalanced and fell. She screamed loudly but it was apparent that she was not really hurt. Both her brothers, so little bigger than herself, rushed anxiously to her aid, and with great concern helped her up and brought her to their mother. When the child fell, the mother had at first started up in alarm, but when she saw that the child was not really hurt and that her brothers were caring for her with such tenderness and concern, her eyes grew soft and a look of such ineffable love passed over her face that for a few seconds it seemed to shine — once again I looked at sheer beauty. I thought of the climb up the hillside and realized sharply how much beauty in the world must be hidden from our eyes.

Beauty lies on every side; we must develop our own microscopes of perception in order to pierce the physical exterior which, like the grass-covered hillside, conceals a radiant glory still hidden from our imperceptive eyes.

(From Sunrise magazine, Summer 2007; copyright © 2007 Theosophical University Press)

Inspirational Menu

I used to envy the father of our race, dwelling as he did in contact with the new-made fields and plants of Eden; but I do so no more, because I have discovered that I also live in “creation’s dawn.” The morning stars still sing together, and the world, not yet half made, becomes more beautiful every day. — John Muir