Does beauty make us vulnerable?

When discussing a recent short story of mine, talk turned to  beauty and truth and how each leaves people vulnerable. Truth I understood; we have to face things in others, in life, in ourselves sometimes that is scary, that leaves us open to having to trust or to move on, to make change or make what we have be our choice. There’s a lot of responsibility involved in knowing truth, and truth is exposure, opening us to the risk of living with others.

But beauty was more difficult. How could something visually pleasing leave a person vulnerable? Isn’t it instead the universe’s gift to us? In the story, a beautiful young man walks into a house buried in snow, a family living in the lingering grief of a husband and father silently leaving them. The young girl has relegated love and romance and sex to the fantasies she reads in literature. They satisfy; the stories are known and don’t change.

But when this beautiful young man walks into her house, his beauty steps past her barriers. He is genuine and exquisite, and she feels suddenly open and vulnerable as he reads her desire.  So what is at work when we see something or someone so beautiful that it makes us stop? What does it strike in us that we need to gaze, to share it with others, to paint it, take a picture, memorize it in memory? Something inside must be stirred. Something seen within the person, what emanates that recalls or wakes something in us—maybe from human memory, maybe something deeper, connecting with a broader existence.

To keep that beauty in your life, in a sense, is to let it have power over you. When we feel attraction to a person, that is the first step to allowing someone to cross into our lives. Before we  even shake hands or say hello, they’ve crossed over, waking something, creating a slight change if only for a moment. Creating, sometimes, a lasting change if the gap between closes.  When we build our home on the lake, soothed by water’s constancy, by the sun and moon’s predictable but never uninspiring beauty, we are still mesmerized quickly if we take the moment to look. It affects us. It changes our decisions, it confirms our trust.

But life is unpredictable too. While we watch cranes flying over a twilight sky, a healthy teenage girl suffers five heart attacks while being brutally raped. While a hurricane tears away thousands of lives, the moon rises orange and we stand outside and gasp. When hard words surround us at home or at work, we’re greeted with a soft-lipped wide smile on a face we can’t forget. Maybe beauty is a balm for pain and we have to be vulnerable to it to let it work its magic. Trust leave us vulnerable to betrayal, loss, and pain. We don’t know. Unknowing has always been key to human vulnerability—having to trust, to hope, against odds. But that sun and moon keep doing their thing, and beauty is hard to resist.

 

 

EDIT: In discussion with people, some issues came up to reiterate: We don’t always see nature’s beauty though it’s right in front of us. And that’s also why I think when we’re attracted to someone’s “beauty,” that we’re really attracted to some inner need at the moment, some expression of ourselves even, that we perceive in someone else. (Not to sound like we only act for ourselves in an egotistical way  but that connections happen based on what we’re feeling on a deeper level.)