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?
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.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.