Sunday, July 21, 2013

Beauty in the Midst of the Mundane

The other day, after work, I went to visit a dear old (or rather, long-term) friend. She is retired and has some time on her hands. Together, we lamented the fact that nobody in our frum world ever gets together anymore, just for a simple coffee morning or anything at all, really, unless it is a Shabbos or Yom Tov se’udah. It has to be said that our frum community is populated by very busy women with nine or fourteen children, elderly parents to look after, and endless family and community commitments. Many of them are working outside the home as well. They deserve a medal! But nobody has time to just relax quietly for an hour with a friend or two. "It's such a shame," we said to each other. 

That simple, unpretentious weekday socializing of a woman dropping by her friends in the neighborhood for a coffee and a heart-to-heart seems to have all but vanished. Because it did exist once, didn't it? I have less day-to-day commitments, but I also get caught up in that merry-go-round of being “too busy” for the life I would like to lead. More than anything else, I think it is one of those "signs of the times" that we hear so much about. 
Then we went on to establish how it really doesn't take that much to get a little extra pleasure out of life. She reminded me of that time I spent a Shabbos in her house, and we had been sitting on her porch with our early morning tea in the pretty cups, instead of the ordinary mugs. Ten years later, the image is still alive and cherished in her memory! It has been said before, by many others, but that doesn't make it any less true coming from me: We must use the pretty cups more often!

I am not advocating using the pretty cups every day, because I do believe in saving certain things for "special occasions" – if nothing else, for Shabbos and Yom Tov – for otherwise, how could any occasion be marked as special? Then every day would again be the same, if slightly upgraded, which is ultimately no good. We all know that unlimited ice cream every single day will erode the magic rather quickly. Nevertheless, we should make more weekday moments count, and maybe we should make more occasions special too. Life is too short and too precious to be wasted on ordinary mugs.

And here we are really touching on a theme that I feel very strongly about: Creating beauty in the midst of the mundane. Nourishing our inborn need for beauty, whether it is visual, tactile, or anything else. Enjoying those little pretty moments that remain in our memories. I'll never forget the time I stole six minutes out of a busy Erev Pesach to sit on my stoop and blow some soap bubbles that shimmered in the spring sunshine. (I don't think the neighbors ever have gotten over it either.)

Of course, one might argue that pretty cups – or any other equivalent in the material world – are largely irrelevant; that life is about higher, spiritual values. To that I would respond that it is not a question of either/or; we should aim to elevate our lives both in the spiritual and the material realms. Indeed, it is the Jewish way to take everything material, elevate it, and serve a holy purpose with it!

Additionally, if a bit of material beauty can bring some fleeting joy to your life – then it is worthwhile. And in the case of my friend above, that little spot of joy wasn’t fleeting at all! Perhaps I should stress, though, that I am speaking of everyday beauty here – however that may look in the beholder’s eye – not of material accumulation for the sake of keeping up with the Cohens. Or even the Rabinowitzes.

In fact, I’m not endorsing materialism at all – this is about the soul. Working with people, as I do, I frequently see how a little beauty can affect the spirit. One instance that will always stand out in my memory is the day I came to work dressed all in black, but with a big, pink silk rose pinned to my scarf. An elderly client twinkled at me and said: “You will get s’char – your reward in Heaven – for that rose, because it makes us smile!”
Surely this adorable tented canopy would
add prettiness and pleasure to the most
stubbornly average weekday!

(Image from

Therefore, let us guard and cherish and cultivate the little things we can do to bring more color to an average Wednesday. Shabbos is - and should be! - incomparable, but maybe Monday needs a little pretty pleasure too? Take the time to relax with a friend – if just for a half hour. The day will come when she won’t be there anymore. Make your lemonade from live lemons, not that nasty stuff from the bottle. Pin a rose to your scarf. Don’t always routinely reach for the ordinary mugs – but let the pretty cups come out to play!

Shalom Uv'racha!

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