Let’s be embraced by beauty in 2007

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, December 28, 2006

Gaydon Willis is a Cochrane Eagle columnist with an attitude – indeed, a most positive attitude, considering she is coping with cancer and refuses to let the “C” word rob her of the joy of life. Her writing flows from the heart of her journey and is characterized by candor, clarity, wisdom and humour. I’d like to begin my final column of 2006 by referring to the conclusion of her most recent column, appropriate, I think, because this is the week when many folks return undesirable gifts to the store and exchange them for things they’d much prefer.

“I’m going to take all my fears, worries and negative thoughts and exchange them for something better,” Gaydon wrote. She would exchange fear for hope, worry for faith, anger for joy, hate for love, and anxiety for peace.

Her positive outlook reminds me of the many e-mails I’ve received from our coffee companions. In fact, if the responses on particular themes we’ve explored in this column over the past year are any indication, then the positive attitudes of forgiveness, happiness, beauty, and overcoming loneliness top the list.

I wasn’t at all surprised to find forgiveness held the most interest for our coffee companions. As you may recall, the series of four columns on the topic was motivated by this fall’s example of a Pennsylvania Amish community’s acts of forgiveness and compassion following the murder of five of their young school children.

We had touched briefly on forgiveness back in March, of course, when Canadian peace activist James Loney was freed from captivity in Iraq after being held hostage for five months and one of his companions was executed. He has come out recently pleading for leniency toward his captors.

Locally, coffee shop patrons continue to share with me how the Amish example and your responses have provided healing for their lives.

The goal of such forgiveness, according to several of our readers, is the reconciliation that results in greater happiness among people, another popular topic this past year.

David Ambrose and Elaine Phillips, two of our local coffee companions who are originally from South Africa, helped us understand how this greater happiness is facilitated through ubuntu, a Xhosa and Zulu concept that translates roughly: “If I hurt you, I hurt myself; if I treat you well, I treat myself well.”

As you may recall, David drew our attention to a quote from South African Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu on ubuntu:

“It is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness, it speaks about compassion.” People with ubuntu “know that they are diminished . . . when others are treated as if they were less than who they are. The quality of ubuntu gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanise them.”

The topics of beauty and overcoming loneliness have intertwined themselves with forgiveness and happiness in many varied ways throughout the past year’s columns. Aware of their importance to our readers, local book dealer George Parry recently recommended to me a volume that celebrates their unity.

Beauty, the Invisible Embrace: Rediscovering the True Sources of Compassion, Serenity, and Hope, by John O’Donohue, reflects the positive essence of a motto I’ve adopted for my columns: “The world will be saved by beauty.”

O’Donohue is the author of the international bestseller Anam Cara. In Beauty he writes:

“The Beautiful stirs passion and urgency in us and calls us forth from aloneness into the warmth and wonder of some eternal embrace. It unites us again with the neglected and forgotten grandeur of life; for in some instinctive way we know that beauty is no stranger. We respond with delight to the call of beauty because in an instant it can awaken under the layers of the heart some forgotten brightness.”

For O’Donohue, beauty’s embrace may be the most positive, soul-affirming experience of all, for it has its origins in God.

“No storm can touch us there,” he writes. “In the presence of the God of Beauty our own beauty shines. God is the atmosphere where our essence clarifies, where all falsity and pretension vanish. Here we are utterly enfolded.”

So, in the spirit of Gaydon’s exchange of attitudes, I’d like to propose a New Year’s resolution for all our coffee companions: That we will exchange whatever is dark, ugly and lonely in our lives for the embrace of beauty, and in that embrace, radiate beauty to all we touch throughout the coming year.

© 2006 Warren Harbeck

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