Where to Find Beauty These Days

I’m riding on the bike path in my hometown.

As usual, I’m caught up in my thoughts about everything and nothing, missing it all, when a deer bounds across the path and I skid to a halt. Just like that, I’m awakened. I look around and take it all in.

The bike path rolls out in front of me, eventually bending out of sight in the distance. Ancient trees on both sides of it reach toward the sky, intermingling above in a canopy of summer foliage. Sunlight the color of honey dapples the path between dancing shadows, as the crowns of the trees murmur in the breeze. Ahead of me, the deer has quit bounding, trading safety for a meal, as it grazes beside the path. The only sound is the whisper of those treetops and the background music of crickets still humming from the night before.

As I take it all in, I think of all the places I’ve hauled my bike to this summer—Delaware, Wisconsin, other destinations in Illinois—riding new paths for the first time, in awe of their beauty.

And I think, If this were my first ride on the first morning of my first visit to this place, I’d be soaking up every detail of its beauty.

I’d tell everyone all day about the path that wound its way through a countryside so pastoral you wondered if you’d gone back in time. I’d get on Zillow with my wife and start looking at house prices in the area. I’d imagine waking up every morning to ride a path like this. And yet, that’s exactly what I get to do, right here in Dixon, IL.

We can be blinded by many things. Repetition is one of them.

I love this hometown of mine so much it became the inspiration for the setting of my first novel, The Unhiding of Elijah Campbell. Indeed, I love it so much that one reader who buys my book early is going to get two free tickets to my 2023 Retreat Weekend, which will be hosted right here in the Dixon area. That’s how much I love this place.

However, if you experience anything for long enough, you will lose sight of its beauty, even when it’s right in front of you.

Repetition can dull the vividness of things, like long years of sunlight through a kitchen window fading that old art project stuck to the fridge.

Familiarity is like a car racing along the highway, blurring every good thing it’s passing, until you can only make out the unremarkable gist of it.

It’s the over and over again of things, like the thousandth laugh of a child, making it almost impossible to remember the thrill of their first.

These are metaphors of course. Metaphors for a lot of things. But today I’m thinking about relationships.

I’m thinking about what we first saw in our beloved all those days or decades ago that made us decide so audaciously that we’d like to journey with them the rest of the way. It’s the mug of coffee no one else had ever prepared for you in the morning—now, some mornings, they inexplicably forget to put the sugar in it and it makes you wonder if they love you at all. Or the freckle in that one spot that drove you simply wild every time you saw it—now, you can’t remember the last time you looked at it. Or the toes beneath the covers in the dark, searching for yours, reassuring you that you weren’t alone—now, some nights, a sharply-clipped toenail scratches you and all you can do is wonder why they so carelessly hurt you.

I could go on and on, couldn’t I?

But I don’t want to do the work for you.

I just want to be the deer, unexpectedly bounding across the path of your life, jarring you awake, bringing you to a skidding halt, to look around and take it all in—especially your beloved—as if for the first time.

Whatever beauty was once there, it is still there, if you have the eyes to see it.

Like honey-colored sunlight filtering through the dark canopy above.

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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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About Kelly

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.