A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”  John Keats

Have you ever heard music so beautiful that it made you cry?  Have you ever seen something so beautiful that it actually took your breath away?  If that has ever happened to you, my guess is that you can still recall that moment in vivid detail.  You can still hear the music in your head, even though the moment has long past.

Beauty is ephemeral:  flowers wither and die, rainbows dissolve into the mist,  symphonies end.

Some people are better at seeing beauty than others.  They are attuned to it, like a Reiki master is attuned to healing energy.  Some people just seem to vibrate at the frequencies where beauty dwells, and they can see beauty more readily than we mere mortals.  We call those people artists, and if we are very fortunate they are able to communicate that beauty to us in such a way that we can see what they see, or hear what they hear.

Portrait photographer Yvette Gioia is one of those people.  She has the rare ability of being able to see beauty in people who may not consider themselves to be beautiful, and then capturing that beauty on film.  Not only does she  photograph the physical beauty of a person,  she captures the beauty of their soul as well.  If you are fortunate enough to be photographed by Yvette, you will never see yourself in the same way again.

While we may not all have Yvette’s talented eye, I believe that we can all learn to see the beauty that is around us every day.  Our ability to see beauty in everyday things is directly related to the degree of gratitude that we bring to our world, as well as an appreciation for the fleetingness of life’s pleasurable moments.  Learning to see beauty requires that we take the time to stop and appreciate beauty when we cross its path.  When we are grateful enough for beauty to give it our undivided attention, even for a moment, time stands still.  And if we really give ourselves over to that precious moment of beauty something miraculous happens:  that moment burns itself into our memory like a photograph on Yvette’s camera, and we can recall it even years later in vivid detail.  What a glorious gift!

This past weekend I participated in a performance of Verdi’s Requiem with the Space Coast Oratorio Society in Cocoa Beach.  I was one of over 80 singers who performed along with a full orchestra under the direction of Aaron Collins, a young conductor with an amazing talent for drawing exceptionally beautiful music out of marginally talented musicians.  There is nothing more fleeting than the beauty of a musical performance.  We rehearse for months, during which time we struggle with music that tends to be just outside the grasp of our limited musical abilities.  Under Aaron’s gentle coaxing we begin to make sense out of intricate harmonies and difficult rhythmic patterns.  We stretch ourselves musically, willingly suspending our disbelief in our own abilities and giving ourselves over to Aaron’s vision.  Finally, it is performance day, and we only get one shot at getting it right.

When you’re performing a piece of music of that magnitude, the whole world drops away and for a time nothing exists except the music.  During a performance, if you’re doing it properly, every fiber of your being is involved in that performance.  You actually become the music.   For months I’ve been learning my piece of it.  I’ve hummed the alto parts as I shop at Publix, and latin phrases like tuba mirum spargens sonum have been stuck in my head.  I burst out into unprovoked latin at odd moments, like a form of medieval Turette’s.  Each of the other singers and orchestra members has been equally focused on their parts.  From our individual points of view, we are all learning a different piece of music.  But then performance day comes, and each of our individual pieces gets combined into one glorious piece of musical beauty.

Quite often, performance day is the first time any of us has ever heard the piece in its entirety, with all the parts playing at once.  Until performance day, the conductor is the only one who can hear the whole thing in his head as HE shops at Publix.  So over the years I’ve learned to really pay attention to performance day.  I’ve learned to appreciate the ephemeral quality of a musical performance and to be grateful for the privilege of participating in the expression of such exquisite beauty.  As the strings begin the opening chords, my whole world drops away, and I become completely aware of every detail.  I am acutely aware, throughout the performance, that I am experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime moment and that to capture it I must give my entire soul over to the experience.  The feeling is one of complete and total gratitude for the beauty of the moment. As the vibrations of the last note dissolve away, the world rushes back, and POOF!  the music is gone.  We never perform that piece again.  All that work for one performance, and then we walk away.

After an exceptionally beautiful performance, when the excitement has begun to die down and it finally begins to dawn on me that it’s really over, it’s not unusual for me to cry.  We are irrational beings, and even though we know beauty is fleeting, there is a part of us that wishes we could somehow capture it and keep it forever.  We mourn its passing and grieve for our perceived loss.  The grieving is part of the beauty of it, I think, and I’ve learned to cherish the sadness I feel at the end of a particularly exhausting but satisfying performance.

But if we’ve truly appreciated the beauty that crosses our path, we are left with the memory of it embedded in our soul, there to be retrieved in future days.  If we’ve taken the time to appreciate beauty with our entire being, if we’ve been truly grateful for the moment of beauty and given ourselves over to it, then it stays with us always.

As you go through this day, keep an eye open for random beauty.  When it crosses your path, stop what you are doing, if only for a moment, and relish in the fullness of that beauty.  Let it seep into the dark crevices of your soul, filling the empty corners with its warm light.  And if it happens that you find yourself sad today over something or someone that is leaving your life, then cherish that sadness as a sure sign that beauty has paid a visit.   Be grateful for the gift that beauty brings, and beauty will surely come around again to brighten another day.

Valerie Saurer is a musician and writer living in Merritt Island Florida with Keith and an ever-increasing number of cats.
If you’re missing someone who once brought beauty into your life, Valerie invites you to send them a free greeting card so you can let them know how you feel.