“Please select a photo from the magazine that you think is beautiful and then write a paragraph, in English, explaining why it’s beautiful to you.” That was the assignment I gave my advanced ESOL (English as a Second/Other Language) class during our one and a half hours together on a recent Tuesday morning. We had been exploring the broad topics of health and beauty for several weeks. In the previous class I had taught a vocabulary building lesson on the many synonyms for the word beautiful, such as captivating, stunning, and alluring. I explained the more finely nuanced connotations evoked by the use of these alternative adjectives to help them better convey a more precise emotion.
“Beauty is not caused. It is.”—-Emily Dickinson
And so they got busy with heads bent, as they thumbed through the magazines and began to write. After sufficient time, I went around the room asking each student to show the class the picture they had selected and to share what they had written. As you might expect, their selections were quite diverse, reflective of beauty’s many incarnations: a water garden, a mother fox with her kits, Olympic athletes, a kitchen interior, a gold watch, the ocean, a turned wooden bowl, a plate of pasta, the hand of a small child in the secure clasp of a grandparent’s aged hand.
“Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”—- Franz Kafka
Likewise, their responses revealed the many factors that combine to create a definition of beauty, unique to the eye of each beholder: emotions, memories, and the senses. The kitchen and the food recalled the warmth of fellowship with family and friends around the table. The athletes exemplified noble attributes of character like courage and humility as well as awe at the grace and agility of the human body. The water garden and the ocean spoke to their hearts’ yearning for peace, tranquility, and union with nature.
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” —- Helen Keller
We all agreed that there are as many dimensions to beauty as there are words to describe it. What we found universal is the joy and appreciation that come from noticing the beauty that surrounds us in everyday life. For me, as their teacher, my students are a thing of beauty. Each week a group of ten to thirteen adults gather together, representing almost as many different countries, all with the same desire and commitment to learn English. In each class I am in awe of their fearlessness. It is no small thing to struggle publicly to find the right words to express your feelings in a foreign language. But this they do, always striving to improve. Not just trying to get by, but to excel. And that is a very beautiful thing indeed.
“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”—– Marcus Aurelius
Dear Readers, What is a thing of beauty to you? Please share!