Life isn't about perfection, and I am telling you this from the position of a person going through treatments for breast cancer, so you have to believe I am sincere when I say this. In fact, I myself prefer life messy. It is not a sin to be human-to have, feelings, emotions, imperfections, humanity. We all struggle to survive in our own way, with our own individuals ideas of what true happiness is. We each run out of time, experience heartache, illness, and grief, feel distress, loneliness, and betrayal. To be human is to a be a being with the need to love and be loved in all its inevitable pain and emotional upheaval. But, we also need to be happy and without love, happiness is an impossibility. As happiness comes out of love, so Beauty comes out of happiness. Not just normal everyday beauty, but Beauty with an enormous capital "B".
The definition of "beauty" has been twisted over the years. Beauty is not what you see on the cover of Glamour magazine, in the make-up aisle, in the look of the "celebrity of the day", or even in the most beautiful woman/man in the world. It may be within this person, but Beauty, true Beauty, is not superficial. Beauty is something that you see within someone, through their actions, expressions, way of being. Beauty can also be seen between people, whether they are lovers, family, friends, or even strangers meeting for the first time. People who "fit" in some way. Beauty is in Nature-within its power, its synergy. Nature is true to itself and holds no airs or propriety. Beauty can also be created in art of any form. It just needs to be true and hold no pretense. So, when something is true to itself or him/herself, then Beauty can be found here. Perhaps it's true what Keats wrote in his poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn" from 1819:
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
I believe when we deny happiness and refuse to follow our heart where it leads us, we commit a true sin against ourselves and against Beauty. I have always felt this way, just not in a conscious way. More like a little seed inside of me waiting for the chance to sprout. In this, E. M. Forster was my water and sunshine. He helped me to understand this ideal Beauty, leading me away from superficiality. Somewhere around 1990, I happened to discover the 1986 film A Room with a View, completely by chance. It was playing on the television when I was living with my parents. My parents each had their own TV (actually they each had their own living room due to a general dislike of each other), but I do remember seeing this movie on my father's TV in my father's "room". In my youth, my father, in his own way, tried to introduce me to great literature. I remember him buying me a nice leather bound edition of Daphne du Maurier's Jamaica Inn and urging me to read it. I don't think I ever got past the first couple chapters. Actually, I probably should look up that book and read it with my more "adult" eyes and see what I think about it. I did love Rebecca, her more well-known novel. My father wasn't a huge reader of fiction, but he did have a library of books, more of a scientific bent to them though. He had many books on science, nature, and history, typical of a high school science teacher. I do think I remember seeing a little Dickens there, though. My father was a very unique individual, kind of an aloof intellectual, but with a very mercurial streak and a very physical bent. He loved sports and was always coaching one sport or another. As I grow older, I realize more and more how like him I have become (minus the sports). My temper does flair quite often, and I'm surrounded by the books that I love, just of a different sort.
From what I remember of high school, a public high school I might add, was that books and literature were things to be got through and completed, kind of like a chore. Hopefully, this has changed in public school today, but somehow I sense that it has not. So, my appreciation didn't blossom for a while. I was a true late bloomer in life. My happening on this film at the age of 22 was pure serendipity for me. It was one of the defining moments of my life. "A Room with a View" puts into both words and images my own thoughts and philosophical beliefs that I had held close all along. The film also gave me an appreciation for art, both good and bad, and art's power. It allowed my mind to open and expand, to include those people beyond my own scope and very limited society.
I ended up taking my first university level English course in the Fall of 1994. I had graduated in 1991 with a Bachelors degree in Clinical Laboratory Science and was working in a lab at the time, but knew that this was not my future as it was intended. My father had hoped that I would attend medical school, but unfortunately, my strengths did not lie in science and math. My grades were not med school worthy (a B average) and my emotional makeup was not condusive to getting up close and personal with the human body. In fact, the whole idea of having to take gross anatomy scared me away from most of the health fields available to the coursework I had already taken. I ended up in the laboratory when everything else had been ruled out. A great way to start a life.
I enrolled in a course called The Romantic Movement offered by the English department at the University of Buffalo. And I won't lie to you, it was tough. I read the poems of Keats, Wordsworth, Shelley, and Coleridge with relish and to the best of my ability at the time, but could not write a proper English paper no matter how hard I tried. It would take years for me to try to do this, but I did and can and now find that I am actually really good at it. Who would have thought? As I am sitting down finalizing my coursework for the Fall to finally, at long last, complete my Masters degree in English, I realized something of profound importance. E. M. Forster opened the doors to a world I had never known existed. Those few moments in my four-decade-long life, watching cable on my father's massive medieval-style console TV, sitting on the burnt orange wall-to-wall carpet, were the beginnings of the biggest turning point of my life.
And I have Mr. Forster and his contribution to the great tradition of literature to thank for it.
Stay tuned tomorrow for more on the film A Room with a View, directed by James Ivory in 1986.