An old truck and the creation of beauty

by Mr. Sheehy

The roofers returned to our house last week. They had been here a month ago replacing the angled roof, but our landlord had not realized they could have done at the same time the flat balcony roof that’s above half our apartment – the part that actually leaks. Anyway, to catch the crumbs falling from above, they parked beside our place an ancient Chevy dump truck, and I fell in love. I wanted to live on a farm where I knew how to drive it – or at least knew how to read the sign on the dashboard that explains how to drive it.

Not like riding a bicycle

Instead, I could do only what I do – I took a picture and imagined what it would be like if I had done something on a farm or ranch more than deliver the furniture.

That’s one thing I do with beauty these days – I take a picture of it. Photography’s a great hobby and even if I don’t do it that well (as I’ve mentioned), I enjoy the pursuit. What I find sometimes, though, is that I struggle to find a suitable subject for my shots.

Chevrolet headlights

Fine, this truck glows beautifully as a working, preserved antique, but what would make these pictures more compelling? That’s where I get the kids.

An easy way to inject any part of anything in my life with beauty is to add the kids to it. I grabbed Ellen, stuck her on the truck, and Kiersten captured the truck and the girl – a much more interesting and captivating image than the ones we created without her.

Could be comfortable on the farm

And I can’t help follow the metaphor it makes with our lives, which may appear drab and mundane to some single, non-parents, but which are astoundingly more captivating and beautiful than they were before the birth of our girls.

A while back I wondered when it would no longer be okay to laugh openly as I watch Ellen move – her silly actions and odd mannerisms are displayed conspicuously and innocently. Lately, I believe I have discovered an answer – it’s not that it will no longer be okay to laugh, it’s that I will be too busy marveling to think of laughing. At least, that’s what I’m experiencing now. A friend of ours owns a dance studio, and her annual recital was on Mother’s Day weekend. Kiersten took Ellen, and since then we have practiced ballet moves daily – so I can now say (not spell) picque and passe and know what I’m uttering. Every moment has been a blast, as Ellen explains what role she’ll play next time around, when she dances and goes behind the “big black things” (off stage) and we clap and clap.

Her enthusiasm has been augmented by the gift of a spare costume from the recital and the DVDs of the two previous years. We watch them every other day, which is the most we’ll allow though they’re requested every day (Ellen has accepted our every second day is movie day pronouncement).

Jun 01 2007 095

Her viewing is far from passive – as she explains, when she watches she is “doing just what they’re doing on the movie. I’m make suring on that movie I do every – every ballet move.” (You’re going to want to click on that “explains” hyperlink, by the way.) Even Annie is in on the act, throwing her hands on top of her head and walking in circles when we spin. And with all that practice, Ellen’s beginning to get it. I’m not assuming the role of the my-child-is-a-future-star dad, but instead am seeing her begin to spin and move in ways that are not just cute imitations, like when she spun and kept her arms circled before her and then gradually spread them wide, or when, for about two and a half seconds, she balanced on one leg for picque. When she does these things, and when Annie spins, I’m not seeing silly children thrashing about the room (although I see that too), I’m glimpsing beauty – the reason people watch ballet.

I have never done anything physically that would by default earn the compliment of having been beautiful, but I wonder if the feeling I get watching Ellen spin is similar to what my parents felt at times when I played sports. Did they see glimpses of what they’d call beauty? Did they feel not only pride but a sense of awe when I picked off a guy trying to steal second base? Or when I stopped a striker from scoring when he had me isolated one-on-one? Is it possible to experience the same emotion there?

The word awe seems out-of-place, but it’s what I mean to use, because I’m considering the parents’ perspective. No one else need be awed – my athletic endeavors weren’t that astounding, and I don’t email videos of Ellen’s ballet to my college roommates; it’s the parent, who raised the child, seeing every goofy step along the way, who will feel a sense of awe when the child does something amazing, and beautiful. The awe is a sense of blessedness and gratitude – that this child, whom I raised, and whose beauty I can in no way claim as my own doing, has created the act that was before me, even if that act is a smile at the beginning of an ice cream cone or at the “boo” of a game of peek-a-boo.

Peek

For a survey recently, I had to answer in 10 words or fewer why I teach. I have jumped past 10 words in this article, but this participation and observation of beauty in my children is very similar to why I teach for a living. Like with my own children, I am aware that I am not responsible for the great work my students create, but I do get to participate in its creation by assigning projects and responding to their work, and that participation mimics slightly the relationship I have to the beauty my own children create. I am an involved observer – one who has reason to beam particularly brightly at the work; one who has seen that creator in down times as well as in up; and one who, at times, is able to augment my own creations of beauty by inserting others and their work. I don’t claim their work as my doing, but when I see a beautiful truck and want to take a picture, I may ask them to stand in to lend me a compelling subject.

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