Lovers find secret places inside this violent world
where they make transactions with beauty.
I was recently cleaning out my desk drawers when I came across the letter I received in March 2020 from Frankfort politely asking me to shut down my business while the COVID-18 state of emergency raged, as I was considered a nonessential employee.
Nonessential employees are those who perform work that’s not considered necessary during a state of emergency such as COVID-19. The letter included a long list of careers considered nonessential, including florists, musicians, hair stylists, videographers, chefs, painters, librarians, copyeditors, graphic designers, scholars, fitness instructors, actors, pastors, podcasters, and landscapers. The duties of these employees don’t support health and safety infrastructure during emergencies and, as such, aren’t required to maintain public health.
I couldn’t disagree more. I would argue these employees – these artists, these designers of transactional beauty – are incredibly essential, at least to a life of meaning and purpose. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest one of the reasons we all currently feel so existentially disconnected is that we spent the last several years in a beauty drought, both in output and consumption. Of course I understand the community safety reasons for closing my business during the pandemic. While cognitively I understand that those who create – or gatekeep the created, like librarians and teachers – might not actually save lives, I also believe they … might just save lives.
Creativity. Art. Beauty. Mystery. Wonder. Magic. Whatever you call it, know it’s your birthright. We are designed to seek, to ask, to wonder, to gape in awe; we require magic as much as we require air. As journalist Bill Moyers writes, “Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous.” We can all see, but transactions with beauty teach us how to look, which is a far more important life skill. Those moments make us stop and look more deeply, like placing a frame around the now. Writer and theologian Carl Frederick Buechner wrote, “The frame sets it off from everything else that distracts us. That is the nature and purpose of frames. The frame does not change the moment, but it changes our way of perceiving the moment. It makes us notice the moment.”
But beauty is a contract we must intentionally sign. Not only must we find beauty, we must create and pass it along as well. Transactions with beauty only occur when we consciously choose to look, find, generate, and share those moments of timelessness in a temporal world.
While some consider a life of transactional beauty nonessential, I believe it’s an obligation to seek out and share magic in a dark world. Now, more than ever, the world needs those willing to look for the light-filled cracks and reflect the beauty they’ve found.