Why do we eat?
We eat to keep ourselves alive. More specifically, to keep our bodies alive. To nourish.
There is a spectrum, from fasting to feasting. We may fast for forty days and live, I am told. Once I fasted three days only to get so weak I had to get off the ETS bus and buy an apple from 7-Eleven. I could feel the sugar surge through my veins, reviving me. Science tells me I could have held out longer, but I'm a small man.
We are fresh from Thanksgiving feasts, when family gathers around a special meal to eat more and better than we need. There is no practical purpose for gravy.
We fast sometimes and we feast sometimes and both are good.
But we do need to eat. The most basic food will sustain us. Mush. Gruel. Insects and leaves on desert islands. Rice and beans for a third world lifetime.
To survive we don't need flavour, but we do need food.
Why do we sleep?
The science of sleep seems to be a confounding conundrum, but I can tell you one thing for certain. I need sleep.
Shortly after returning from Europe, I awake in a half-dream state. Blurred vision. Disoriented stagger towards the bathroom. I've been away for two weeks in three different bedrooms and already I am losing my way in the darkness of home. Back in bed I lie half-awake for two hours. I move ever so slowly in and out of sanity. My vision is liquid – dancing in blurred shapes of light. This feels close to fainting. I wonder if I am going a little crazy. Or having a near-death experience. I check my pulse.
As I lay awake–and more awake each moment–I inch towards the light of reason. My mind clears its clouded waters until I can see bottom.
I was not crazy, after all. Only very, very tired. Jetlagged.
I eat to sustain my body. I sleep, I think, to sustain my mind.
But what of my spirit?
A few months back good friends shared good drinks and asked a good question: What is beauty?
We never got our definitive, move-forward-answer.
There were clues. We got peeks through the windows. Parts to make something of the Whole. But the whole remains obscured.
What is beauty? They still write books about this question.
But what if it is the wrong question? Often, questions matter more than answers.
We were asking 'What is Beauty?'. What we should have asked is this: Why is beauty?
This is perhaps the great forgotten question of our time. The walked-over-on-the-way-to-work-question. The question left behind on a rush through the Louvre to check the Mona Lisa off an itinerary.
Why is beauty?
Our bodies can go without food for 40 days and will let us know they need their hunger. By 40 days will theyever let us know. They have pain at the ready. Our minds can last a while without sleep before they slip. But anyone who has felt that slip start will tell you it is a long way down and that you'd better stay here and lie down a while at the top.
So what of our spirits? What food for them? What rest?
This is why beauty.
Last week my wife and I are reclining on the Parisian grass. We close our eyes, and when we open them, the Eiffel Tower is there. Just right there, and way up into the sky she reaches. She dances with light. We are drinking French champagne. We close our eyes again and when we open them, the Eiffel Tower is still there. And we are still here, on the Champ de Mars, like millions before us, feasting on beauty. We lie down and sigh. And then my wife is crying. Not sobs and not much, but a tear or two.
The spirit leaks in this way, sometimes. When jabbed with the sharp spear of beauty, a little hard and a little fast and a little too far in.
Somewhere on our trip, from some mouth or some wall's graffiti came words something like this; 'Beauty is the glow of Truth'.
My God, that is beautiful. And the best answer to our wrong-headed question I've heard so far. It might be just another peek through a window, but it's a mighty large window.
We need beauty. Our spirits need beauty, in the same way that our bodies need food and our minds need sleep.
But we have a problem–a fatal flaw in our design that I cannot understand. When we lack beauty, it is so hard to tell. Our spirits are so quiet. The body will cry out with pain. The lens of the mind becomes so foggy without sleep that we cannot walk a straight line. But what cry does the spirit make?
Depression. Boredom. Anxiety. Fear. Hatred. Hopelessness. Abandonment. Loneliness.
These are good warnings. When the needle is on empty, these will tell you. Unless you are not listening. Unless you drown the warnings out.
Entertainment will do the job.
Perhaps the ugliest thing I saw in Europe was a group of actors screaming for my attention at a dungeon-themed amusement park in Berlin. It was one of the most expensive mistakes of the trip. And the longest wait in line. The sets were elaborate and immersive. The actors were passable through thick German accents. The ghoulish special effects and suspenseful scares entertained, but none of it was beautiful. My spirit left hungry.
Entertainment is no stand in for beauty.
Let me repeat that, oh screen-sapped and weary generation of mine. ENTERTAINMENT IS NO STAND IN FOR BEAUTY.
Don't settle for entertainment. Seek out beauty. You won't have to look far. You don't need to travel. Beauty is just around the corner.
The most beautiful song is the song written just for you. The most radiant beauty is steeped in the context of home. The beauty of my own wife in a fancy dress. The beauty of Alberta Avenue on a sunny Kaleido Saturday.
Festivals and holidays are feasts, but our spirits need meals and snacks, too. Tiny beauty. The Sacred Small. We have to take time, and purpose, to stop and eat.
To look. To listen. To pay attention.
If I bring back one thing from two weeks in Europe it is the reminder to nourish my hungry spirit. To find the beauty of home and daily life. To grow stronger and healthier as I do.
I bring back answers to a good question. Why beauty?