When I was six year's old I tried to count all the stars in the night sky. The challenge overwhelmed me rather quickly but the memory of that night lingers, still filling me with a sense of wonder. It began as a game that my mother suggested for my sister and me. Mom laid a blanket down over a soft patch of clover in our back yard and started the game by asking us to see if we could find the first star to appear as the sun was setting in that wide northern Oklahoma sky. Soon the three of us saw the first pinpoint of light that became brighter as the last rays of the sun began to dim. It was followed by another and another and another until the sky was awash with stars. Far from disappointed by failure, I remember being awe-struck, dare I say, star-struck in the best sense of the word.
That was a long time ago for me, but not so long ago for the stars. I have been busy for the past few decades with important things but the stars are still there, waiting to be counted while I'm still trying to figure out what really counts. Life seems to do that to us. Maybe we shouldn't blame it on "life" though. We're easily distracted from the things that matter most. Like Esau and Isaac in the Old Testament, we trade our birthright for a bowl of soup. But the stars are still there waiting to be counted. The sense of awe and wonder at something greater than ourselves is still there too, even though we may have neglected it in our pursuit of happiness, health and wealth.
But when we lift our eyes up from our current preoccupation and allow the beauty of the stars or sunset or, for my scientifically inclined friends, an elegant theory or equation, or any one of a myriad of beautiful and excellent things, whether natural or even man-made, something in us is put in its proper place. We have a better, a truer, sense of the world and ourselves.
Some may wonder about the practicality of all this and, admittedly, there are things that simply have to be done. But there are some who think beauty will save the world. I have a book by that title in my library, Beauty Will Save the World. It's an intriguing thought, isn't it? I traced it back to a Nobel speech by Russian Novelist, Alexander Solzhenitsyn who apparently borrowed it from an earlier writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky. They make a compelling case for the value of beauty for those of us who are mostly preoccupied with "whatever works."
I don't know whether beauty will actually save the world but I do know that time spent savoring the natural beauty of mountains or ocean, or listening to beautiful music, or strolling through an art gallery, or lying on your back counting the stars as they appear in the night sky will restore most weary souls to a better place. What do you think? I'd love to hear from you.