In my experience, there are two types of beauty. The first is the one that might immediately spring to mind. A bright yellow flower in the sun, a green lake shrouded in fog, city lights against a dark blue sky. This is aesthetic beauty. It brings the feeling you get when you pause for a moment and allow yourself to be carried by a sense of awe as you absorb an image in its wholeness.
The second type of beauty is not so straightforward. It is challenging. There is the beauty in the thoughtful action of a friend, which fills you with love. Or, in a tragic scene of desperation, which fills you with sorrow. When I snapped at my grandma, over the breakfast she had made, when she told me that I create struggle where there doesn’t need to be. My late night bike rides through empty streets, the silence against the sound of my breath and heartbeat and spinning wheels, every rotation of the pedals filling me with power and certainty. Or my co-worker and I chatting during our 10 minute break, of the reality of spending our waking hours at work, he showing me a picture of his young children taken when he last saw them two years ago. I sit with what this job, what this life, means for me and what it means for him; there is beauty in commitment and struggle and beauty in overlooked privilege.
This second beauty comes from the complicated, multifaceted experiences we face in our daily lives. In this realm, our actions have real consequences and we operate in a paradigm of factors beyond our understanding or control. These are the experiences that leave us vulnerable, ricocheting between doubt and discomfort, certainty and ease. They force us to question our ideas about ourselves and the world. They provide us with opportunities for profound growth, and the chance to know more intimately our own humanity.
In life we have these moments that shake us, that hold up our unadulterated realities against our values and our sense of self, and force us to face ourselves unflinchingly. They reflect our paradoxical nature as conviction and doubt coexist side-by-side. In the process of reconciling our experiences with ourselves, we open ourselves up. These are the moments that we must struggle to come to terms with. They are as beautiful as the city lights at night. They are what makes us human. It can take a life’s journey to begin to see any beauty in the second type at all. Yet the pain in the second beauty finds solace in the first beauty. We are lifted up, by both the light and the darkness, and we are able to live more deeply.