Beauty is Truth . . .

. . . Truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Those are the final two lines of John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” The poem is considered one of the greatest odes ever written in the English language.  

Here’s the nutshell:  The poet, or the persona of the poem, encounters a piece of ancient Greek pottery which depicts two scenes: one of lovers about to kiss and one of a group of people apparently preparing to offer a sacrifice at the temple.  The entire poem is the poet expressing how this work of art will outlast living people. The lovers will always be young and in love, and the people in the other scene will never reveal the purpose of their journey or their sacrifice.  

Those last two well-known lines are the poet’s conjecture about what the urn would say to all who encounter it.  But those last two lines are also some of the lines most debated by scholars.  What do they mean exactly?  Beauty is truth? Truth beauty?

Recently, I had the honor of hearing Lisa Fischer perform. If you don’t know Lisa Fischer, you should look her up.  She has toured as a background singer for Luther Vandross, Tina Turner, The Rolling Stones and others.  She is featured in the 2013 film Twenty Feet from Stardom, and she is a Grammy-Award winning artist in her own right. 

But all that aside, let me engage in the futile attempt to describe an ineffable performance. Her vocals are simply impeccable. Almost other-worldly. She doesn’t perform songs; she moves into them and takes up residence, inhabiting the words of others as if they sprang from her own experience. She is a musician whose instrument is her body — not just her lungs and diaphragm and tongue and teeth, but her feet and hands and knees and neck. Her talent was not just the greatest I had ever witnessed, but it was greater than I might have imagined was humanly possible.

But there was something more than talent on stage.  I sat through the entire performance with my hands in a prayer position against my lips. The unfiltered display of naked authenticity was almost more than I could take. Somehow I knew that I was watching her very essence — uncovered, unhidden, unashamed, unafraid — and in beholding her highest and truest self free and unfettered, I knew in that instant that this way of being was available to us all.  

For 90 minutes, Lisa Fischer stood at the intersection of talent and authenticity, and it was holy ground. 

She didn’t talk about god or spirituality or faith or a journey.  I mean, other than the tanktop under her tunic that had the chakras running down the back.  She didn’t have to talk about spirituality. The moment itself was sacred, and she was fully in the moment.  And by her silent invitation, so were we. 

That is the power of art — to create an image, a sound, a moment that transcends the material world and shows us the truth of who we are.  Like a mirror that reflects our soul.  

For you see, beauty is truth, truth beauty . . . 

Everybody Needs A Buddy

A year and a half ago I had to make one of the toughest decisions of my life (not an overstatement).  Because of various and sundry life changes that I won’t detail here, I had to make one huge domino fall in order for the others to follow suit.  I had to re-home my two beloved dogs, Sebastian and Pepper.  It broke my heart then, and it breaks my heart still.  But a combined 140 pounds of dog wasn’t conducive to apartment living.  It would not have been easy for me, and it would not have been fair to them.


A lightning-strike solution presented itself with ease and grace, and I believe that their move to a new home (complete with huge backyard and a loving person) was directed by the universe.  But, damn, the loss.  The horrendous, endless sense of loss.  And because it was ultimately a decision, the questioning.  The horrendous, endless questioning.

I’ve been thinking a lot about loss lately.  I think a lot of people do during the holidays.  The older I get, the more loss I have experienced, of course.  There is an invisible line I crossed which no one told me about where the brain is more occupied with memories than with planning.  And memories are the currency of loss.

Memories and 70’s music.  When I’m feeling all the feels, I tend to run toward them for a warm embrace rather than trying to avoid them.  So today I’ve been basking in the feeling of loss while listening to Carole King (“You’re So Far Away”), Elton John (“This is Your Song”), John Denver (“Rocky Mountain High”), and James Taylor (just about any song).  The music of that era seems to have been centered around chords and chord progressions that evoke loss — it’s that sweet, happy-sad sound that gives a sense of meaning even to lyrics like “I want to make it with you.”

Memories are the savings account of emotion.  Sometimes they bring a deep and indescribable pain, but they are the evidence of a life well lived.  For me, they hold my dad, my grandparents, old loves, college memories, moments — those moments that would seem insignificant to anyone else but which hold deep meaning for me.   Those people who meant something to me, and even I can’t explain it.  Facebook friends I never actually met who died, and their death ripped a hole right through me.  Celebrities, yes, celebrities whose passing feels like a loss for the planet.  That person I haven’t seen in 30 years who still shows up in my thoughts now and then.

New Year’s Eve is a natural time for taking this journey into yesterday with all its joys and sorrows.  With all its loss.

I am learning to reframe loss in three significant ways.

First, I am choosing gratitude in place of grief.  I miss my father so deeply some days that it feels like I can’t breathe.  But, I have found that I can shift the feeling from devastation to appreciation if I stop and say, “I’m so grateful you were my dad.”

Second, I am only giving yesterday a limited amount of emotional space.  I’m grateful for my memories, but when they start to dominate my internal conversation, I consciously focus on tomorrow and plans and hopes and dreams and possibilities.

Third, I just look at Buddy.  My pup is, without a doubt, the best decision I made in 2016.  That, too, is not an overstatement.  I’ve had lots of animals in my life, but I’m not sure any being has brought me so much joy. Babies always win over loss.


Actually, there is a fourth thing I do — I change the Pandora station.  Carole King is good for purging, but Abba is good for happy.

“You are the dancing queen, young and sweet, only seventeen . . .”

True North

A satisfied life requires a few basic elements — love that is undefinable, work that compels, time for whatever expands us, and music, always music.  We could crawl around on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need and toss in shelter, security, and self-esteem, but let’s not go crazy here.

Another core element to a satisfied life is one that often gets overlooked: one or more guiding principles.  Guiding principles are often seen as a requirement for living a good life or a moral life (whatever that is).  The satisfied life, however, is more readily connected with items that fill or nurture us — love, work, time, music — rather than that which directs us.

Guiding principles are the border collies of the spiritual journey.  They nip at our heels when we wander too far into the land of compromise.  They outrun us and come up on our blindside every time we try to turn a different direction.  They guide us into the safety of the barn every night . . . if we let them.

In this age of labels, we can become deluded into believing that the groups with which we identify can provide some of the above services.  But the lines aren’t as clear anymore.   In his essay Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “If I know your sect, I can anticipate your argument.”  But, I’m not so sure that’s as true as it used to be.  Does Christian mean what it used to?  Does Democrat?  Single?  Southern?  Race?

Being a Democrat or a Republican might not guide me to do what is right and good and true, but a principle will.  One of my principles, for instance, is an abiding belief in the equality and unity of all people.  Because of that, I stand against racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, xenophobia, religious intolerance, etc.  I don’t have to make a decision on each of those.  I don’t have to consult a party platform or a church tenet.  I simply have to establish my principle and every decision after that flows with ease.

In an era of fake news and fallacious rhetoric, we need personal principles more than ever. I mean, what if, just what if, we decided that one of our guiding principles was the idea that loving one another was more important than politics?   What if, just what if, we decided that our shared humanity was higher up the priority list than our religious differences?  And what if, just what . . . if . . . , we decided that honoring and respecting each other was more important than winning a damn election?

That just might be . . . satisfying.