Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Wabi-Sabi World

According to T.S. Eliot, April is the cruelest month, but I don't believe it. If anything, I would describe it as beautiful, delicate, but slightly wimpy. When I was out walking the other day, there was something about the blue sky, the puffy clouds, and the birds everywhere that reminded me of a children's book illustration: it had a simple innocence almost too beautiful to be real.

April has the tulips and the redbuds and the beginning of the dogwoods but is prone to cool spells. Not all of the trees are fully leafed yet, so there's an unfinished quality to things. May brings in the azaleas, the lush green of summer, and the probability of heat. It's the culmination of spring and the introduction to summer, trailing fireflies, Derby parties, and Memorial Day cookouts in its wake. If early April marks the return of Persephone, May is her coming of age party.

On the other hand, May lacks the spectacular display of color that heralds the first part of spring. It's a bit more monochromatic, with green being the predominant note. The soft pinks, purples, blues, and yellows of April are only visible for an instant, it seems, before they melt away in the sun: you've got to enjoy them (quick!) while you can.

I am thinking of a favorite quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Each moment of the year has its own beauty . . . a picture which was never seen before and which shall never be seen again." While it's natural to have favorite times of the year, a discerning eye finds something worthy in each passing moment. After all, it can't always be summer. Nature, time, and human beings are always in the process of becoming something they were not a moment ago.

Someone loaned me a book on wabi-sabi once, and I was struck by its message of beauty in imperfection. This philosophy holds that things are always either taking on form or dissolving it and that no part of the process is really superior to any other part. Wabi-sabi is an Eastern aesthetic, and I'm not sure that our culture embraces it to the same extent as the Japanese do. We tend to admire the new and the youthful, and that may be because our society itself is relatively young. It's an imbalance, but an understandable one.

I guess true equanimity would find equal amounts of loveliness in every month, every day, and every hour, and there are times when it's possible to know this. However, complete equanimity is itself an impossibility for most if not all of us. Like the seasons, we wax and wane, and I think it's probably best to accept the changing coloration of our moods and thoughts. We are constantly in flux. Who's to say that a flash of anger or a sorrowful mood is any less beautiful or right than a moment of incandescent happiness? We are products of nature and have our own winter storms, Indian summers, and cloudless afternoons. It's the contrast of shadow and light that lends depth to things.