My family have left for their busy day of school and work, while my task will be to prepare for tomorrow’s eight hour drive to Sydney. Before I begin the formidable task of assembling, repairing and double checking every little bit of the Rolling Show, I am taking a customary few minutes behind one of our bay windows. The sun crests the steep hillside opposite our home long after it has risen on the working class, relying on retired gentlemen such as myself to enjoy is prime warmth. Its now substantial beams spill down the hillside, pouring into every tiny droplet of dew until the sparse eucalypts, the native grass tufts, the familiar mob of kangaroos, the varied bird life, ‘all of creation’ is silhouetted in a glistening, white and rainbow blanket of light. It’s a mesmerising vista that voices the word Spring. The sky is crystal clear; an early, tentative blue that seems to be pacing itself, gathering momentum for a deeper cobalt that might in a while be displayed as a taste of the summer to come. For the first time in months I have opened the window wide to the fresh air which only last week was icy and definitely to be kept at bay. Snow capped peaks can still to be seen not far from here, and this morning’s breeze feels like a cocktail, ‘shaken – not stirred’, with cool and warm currents each intact.
Serendipitously, the first tenuous violin strains from Vaughn William’s ‘Lark Ascending’ have just come from the radio behind me. We have a rather superb sound system, a benefit of my mother’s estate, and I must hold my breath (although the breathing machine seems determined to disagree!) as William’s Lark begins its upwards flight, augmented through the open window by the plentiful calls of local kookaburras, rosellas, currawongs, honeyeaters and – most beautifully – a shrike-thrush somewhere nearby. I have to write immediately, even though the writing could mar the moment’s transcendence.
I know, however, exactly where this musing in my journal will take me: directly towards one of the niggling, unsettling questions that occupy a sometimes noisy backroom in my mind. Why does beauty so persistently emerge in a troubled world? It seems improper that beauty should thrive, almost ambivalently, in a world that also contains the turmoil, folly and pain of humanity. As if to deny the world’s ugliness – even as we see it so graphically, so relentlessly on every evening’s News – beauty gently flows into life, filling a landscape, in a chord of music, bringing grace to a conversation, or imbuing the companionable silence that husband and wife can know and treasure.
I’m not quite hitting the nail on the head here yet … …
“Why?” I want to shout aloud, “Why does beauty surround me, as it seems to have done throughout my life, while elsewhere children play outside local pubs, their tiny black teeth rotten through at six years old by the cans of Coke they suck while their mums and dads booze away inside?”
Why do Palestinian families spend their days lying horizontally on couches strung around their lounge room walls, hoping to lessen the risk from stray AK-47 bullets that pop through their windows? Why are there refugee camps ‘temporarily’ housing hundreds of thousands of souls in cities of frayed and windswept canvas?
Why do I have so much when so many have so little? Why are we living in Paradise? Why do I have a beautiful wife and wonderful children, and grandchildren too? (…soon to number 4!). Why do we live in a land of peace and plenty? Why are we surrounded by nature, wildlife, birds and bushland when so many of our brothers and sisters around the globe stare at crumbling, shell-pocked masonry? My Christian heritage assures me that this is the blessing of God, for which we give thanks. We do give thanks, my Favourite Wife and I; every day, without fail. But I suspect – more and more – that our thanksgiving avoids questions that we dare not ask.
Joy is perplexing. I scarcely ever find myself saying “Why me?” in the sense of why am I in this physical predicament, or why have I lost my opportunity to work and contribute to the world; why a wheelchair, why a breathing machine, etcetera, etcetera. But I regularly trip over this unexpected quandary: “Why is my own life so good, so rich, and so beautiful? What ever did I do to deserve all this?”
A paradox, at the same moment affronting and immensely reassuring: beauty will show itself in a world awry.