Reflections on Beauty (From Main Street U.S.A.)

Beauty. There’s an entire industry dedicated to it. But what if beauty isn’t something you can buy or paint on or put on? What if beauty isn’t even something you can create? What if beauty is a reality we cultivate and something in which we participate?


Dixon, IL (July 15, 2015)

I’m walking down main street in the small, rural town that was once my hometown and is, as of two weeks ago, my hometown once again. It’s my first official day as a writer in our new home. I’ve just dropped the kids off at camp, and there’s a conflict playing out within me.

I’m feeling pressure to race home and write something beautiful.

But up the block, there’s a coffee shop where people are gathered and laughing, and I haven’t had my morning dose yet. And one block further down the street is my wife’s new pediatric development center, Florissa, which I haven’t yet visited. And lining the sidewalks, from here to there, are hanging baskets, with thick cascades of pink and purple petunias.



It’s a July day that has dawned like the best kind of September day. Baby blue sky, mashed potato clouds, sunlight that kisses your face instead of slapping it. It’s the kind of day on which you don’t really need a breeze, but it feels just right anyway. I’d been planning to rush home to capture some beauty in words, but here, ambushed by beauty, I’m reminded:

You don’t capture beauty. It’s too big to be caught and too wild to be grasped. You don’t even discover beauty; you slow down, take a breath, and you let it find you. You make yourself available to it. You bear witness to it.

I look across the street and I see someone reaching high, plucking withered buds. It’s the parent of one of my childhood best friends. Two decades ago, she was like a second mother to me.

I decide the writing can wait.

I cross the street and we greet each other. She tells me the local Garden Club plants two hundred and fifty baskets of petunias every April, lines the streets with them in June, and then for the rest of the summer, five volunteers make a circuit of the town, pruning them, ensuring they flourish, keeping them beautiful.

Beauty happens naturally in the world, but if we want it to flourish and grow and spread, we need volunteers to cultivate it.

We need people who want to tend to their little part of the world, who want to dedicate their lives to making sure beauty multiplies in the space around them—beauty like kindness and compassion and protection and healing and education and service and love and generosity and grace. We need volunteers who will take the beauty that is already happening all around us and prune it into something breathtaking.

She moves along to another basket, still plucking, and we part ways. I buy my cup of coffee, walk back out to the street and head down the block to my wife’s office. She works in a small pediatric development center that is just beginning to get its legs under it. It’s called Florissa, which means “flourish.” It is comprised of four local health organizations that have come together to bear witness to and cultivate the beauty that already exists in the children and families they serve.

Because, after all, beauty is a group project.

It has room for many participants. It takes five people to prune the petunia baskets in a small town. It takes four organizations to make a pediatric center come to life in that same town.

It takes communities of all shapes and sizes to help beauty flourish in this great big human project, and the participation and cooperation become their own kind of flourishing. Many becoming one. That might be the most beautiful thing of all.

I return home and begin to write, but I’m not really writing, I’m just recording. Not creating beauty, just taking dictation. Beauty isn’t an industry, and it’s not something we create; it’s a reality. So, the pressure is off. We don’t have to make ourselves beautiful on the outside. We already are. On the inside. We are here are here simply to bear witness to it, cultivate it, and then, together, unleash it into the world.

That’s how beauty spreads. One moment, one person, and one community at a time.

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Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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23 thoughts on “Reflections on Beauty (From Main Street U.S.A.)

  1. Dr. Flanagan, you’ve done it again. I love the way you share your worldview and I learn something every week. Thanks again for providing a perspective changer.

    • You’re welcome, Dave. It is truly my privilege to be able to share my thoughts and have them so kindly received. Thanks for being a part of that.

  2. Thought provoking post! Thanks for sharing the beauty in your life so I can remember to focus on the beauty in my own.

    • You’re welcome, Patricia. Writing it is a way of reminding myself to keep focusing on it, too!

  3. ….And what if beauty isn’t what you see or feel or create or imagine. What if beauty is purely love, something that comes from the soul. What if some don’t have love within them? Maybe what we see, what we call beauty is the very thing we need as humans to know love. Some cannot stop to see. Some will not allow themselves to stop, to see. However, if we begin….the more we see, appreciate, take in, the closer we connect with that wonderful thing called love.


    • Oh, yes, Patti, I can definitely get on board with the idea that all beautiful things proceed from the their source, which is Love.

  4. This was beauty in words. I am so glad I stopped and took the time to read such a beautiful, soul-nourishing piece. Thank you for sharing your gift with us.

  5. Wonderful insights – “We simply bear witness to it.” I have found in my own life that one of my purposes is to point beauty out to others – I guess, to bear witness to it. And when others see it, the sharing of it makes it even better – magnifies the beauty somehow.
    It’s amazing what we can miss even when its in plain sight all around us.

    • Dave, you remind me of a woman I worked with who recently retired. She had an uncanny ability to point out the beauty in any situation. Listening to her always made me a more hopeful person. Thanks for bringing the hope!

  6. You have nailed it. For a long time now I have felt my life’s purpose is sharing the beauty I see in the world, through my art, photos, writing, positive reinforcement, in whatever ways I can. It’s a lovely way to live.

    • It is, indeed, Ardys. The sharing with others becomes its own blessing to oneself. Not a bad way to pass through.

  7. It’s late but I wanted to stay up a minute longer to read your post. So glad I did. Almost tearful with the vision you brought to my heart. How to package this to help with the ugliness we see/feel in the world?

  8. You seem to be able to say it so well,Kelly….kind words,instill thought provoking insight. Take time to smell the flowers!

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