The Death of Beauty and the Future of Our Planet

A picture of a mountaintop removal siteWork co...

A picture of a mountaintop removal siteWork copyright released by owner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I fear the death of Beauty.

The beauty of taste. Who’s looking out for the survival of flavors in a pasta sauce cooked all day? Of seafood caught and eaten right away? Today’s kitchen isn’t designed for those who cook but for those who rely on the microwave or order take-out.

The beauty of sound. Who listens to the songs of birds, trees rustling in the wind? Who’s encouraging children to study piano—any musical instrument for that matter? Not so they will become accomplished musicians, but so they will grow to appreciate a melodic concerto, a gentle rhythm inviting them to dance close.

The beauty of sight. Where are the protectors of natural beauty, adults who take time to show children flowering plants, luminescent insects, a brightly colored bird? Who drives amidst the varied landscapes of this country and points out vistas extending for miles? (On such journeys today’s children watch movies overhead.)

The beauty of touch. Who encourages us to run our fingertips slowly along a piece of tree bark, a velvety flower, a spiked blade of grass? Toys and kitchenware, even furniture, are made of plastic.

Most likely my children will read this, so I must be careful not to sound like I’m criticizing their parenting. My concern reaches beyond my grandchildren, though they are my means of glimpsing into current trends. And I want to avoid sounding like an old lady who’s always harkening back to the good old days.

But in my concern for the future of the planet I’ve come to wonder how it can survive if few people appreciate Beauty. To someone who’s never hiked a mountain range, what will it matter if coal companies blast tops off mountains? To someone who’s never waded in a stream, what will it matter if streams are polluted? Can humans feel empathy for animals or plants if they have not been “up close and personal?”

Yes, I fear the death of Beauty.

An older woman looks at sex and a changing world

Sex. The subject excites us; it scares us.

Sex is everywhere. Turn on the TV, and you see people casually sleeping with a colleague, a neighbor, a stranger even. Ads for Viagra promise meaningful relationships, not necessarily with a spouse. Crime shows deal with rape and sexual abuse. Sex sells cars, shampoo—you name it.

Homosexuality is no longer whispered about. People actually let it be known that they are gay. And they’re asking for equal rights under the law, even the right to marry.

Those of us who grew up in earlier eras feel out of sync with a culture so different from the one of our youth. Parents and church taught a moral code of restraint. Sex was not treated casually. Meanwhile, we forget that young people were made to feel guilty for their sexual urges (the harm eloquently portrayed in the old movie Splendor in the Grass). We also now see that homosexuals were forced to live a lie.

How do we deal with this disconnect between the values of our youth and the cultural climate of today? I’ve seen two alternatives at work.

1)     We can try to bring back the values of the past by teaching chastity and quoting the Bible. We can apply scare tactics, like condemning people to hell, warning about pregnancy, pronouncing doom for the American family (in truth, not always the harmonious, healthy environment for raising children we imagine it to be).

2)     Or we can open our hearts and minds to a morality that makes us uncomfortable. We can listen to young people talk about the sexual pressures on them. To single adults speak of their wishes for intimacy. To gays and lesbians witness to their experiences of coming to terms with their sexual orientation.

I’m reminded of the late Virginia Davidson, of Rochester, NY. In 1976, the year she turned 60, she was asked to chair the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Task Force on Homosexuality and the Church. As she listened to gay and lesbian Christians, she recognized the injustice of exclusion and worked for the rest of her life to bring them into full participation in the church.

Yes, my sentiments gravitate toward the second alternative. Which doesn’t mean I condone all that goes on today. But life will not return to the way it was when I was growing up—not that I really want it to.

 

 

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Join the movement to end child abuse: www.1sta...

Join the movement to end child abuse: http://www.1stand.org (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, as well as  National Oral Health Month, March for Babies, National Occupational Therapy Month, Stress Awareness Month, Alcohol Awareness Month. Jazz Appreciation Month, National Car Care Month, Facial Protection Month, Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month, Youth Sports Safety Month, Cancer Control Month, and National Autism Awareness Month.

So many causes. So many people whose lives have been touched in ways that lead them to dedicate their energies and financial resources toward making a difference (though I’m not sure how National Car Care Month fits into this).

Why have I chosen to become involved in the domestic violence movement rather than Stress Awareness Month or Train Safety Month?

I have been influenced by real people, women and men of courage who have shared the pain of having been beaten as children. Women who have been raped, fondled by someone they knew. I have heard women and men speak of the lifelong effects of child sexual abuse, usually by a trusted uncle or priest, a father even. They have pictures of themselves taken before the abuse, their eyes sparkling with energy, smiles wide and engaging; pictures from afterward, eyes lusterless, shoulders slumped. I fear for my grandchildren and every child I meet who still trusts adults and loves life.

In 1999 United Church Press published a book I edited: Victim to Survivor: Women Recovering from Clergy Sexual Abuse. One of the contributors, Marian (Et Al in the book), wrote about having been physically and sexually abused in childhood by her father. She told of the shame she felt, the vulnerability that led her to seek the counsel of her priest, who also abused her sexually. She became dissociative; that is she did not allow herself to feel the pain, the betrayal of trust. Several times she was admitted into psych wards of hospitals, the diagnosis being multiple personality disorder. Her career as a social worker was short-lived because of her fear that she might do harm to others.

Marian and I stayed in touch after the book came out. Six or seven years ago she wrote that her only close friend, Darrell, had died. A year or so after that I was among several people who received a letter from her telling us she planned to take her own life. Without Darrell, she no longer had the energy it took to keep her different personalities under control. She was tired.

Like other friends I tried to offer her reasons to live. But one day a letter was returned to me stamped, “deceased.”

Among my possessions are a small jar of sand Marian sent me from a trip to the Holy Land, a tea cup with the inscribed words, “You never know how strong a woman is until she’s in hot water,” and a photo of her as a little girl, a cheerful looking little girl with energetic eyes. On the back is written, “Before the abuse.”

Marian is one reason why I am committed to the cause of preventing child abuse and the sexual assault of women.