Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

A grand and beautiful old courthouse

I’m a mentor! Quite unexpectedly, really. Mentoring can be one of the satisfying graces of our older years. We mentor youngers all the time even if we don’t realize it. But sometimes, we have the privilege of mentoring in an intentional relationship. As in all two-way relationships, we usually discover that we’re mentored right back in some unexpected ways.

 

 

In case you hadn’t noticed, the recent movement for intentional intergenerational relationships is on the rise. Recently, I discovered why as I met with a second-career seminarian who has found new meaning in his life through a considerable change in purpose. He’s been a trial attorney for 30 years, and now is leading a small church in Minnesota during his final year in seminary.

I am his appointed supervisor and I’ve already discovered the high level of curiosity and discovery that we both find ourselves bringing to this new enterprise.

As an attorney, he has tried cases in many Minnesota courtrooms, including those in Pine County, where my husband and I lived for 10 years. Many were our trips to the Pine County Courthouse for tasks like getting absentee ballots, paying taxes, getting licenses. So when J. mentioned how much he’d loved the warmth and beauty of being in those old Pine County courtrooms as an attorney, my ears perked up.

I loved the long halls of that courthouse, marked by the glowing checkered floor tiles that had been waxed within an inch of their life. I remember well the iconic clack of old loose office doors with textured glass windows; the carved oak that was everywhere, bringing blank walls and ceilings to life; the railings and posts of stairways worn shiny with hundreds of hands running themselves over them for a century. I can recall the sound of bureaucratic business being carried on over the long counters in each office with serious, businesslike county employees doing their best to keep everything in order. All were music to my senses.

Ah, yes, I remembered that courthouse and the sense of its generations of ghosts hovering quietly here and there. The Old Courthouse breathed history. My husband’s grandparents had surely been there soon after it opened and for years after.

Then J. said how much he was loving being surrounded by the old historic building that is this little Congregational United Church of Christ church. It has marks of stark New England Congregational structure and houses Minnesota’s oldest extant working organ. It is on the National Registry of Historic Places. The ghosts of its past still hover in its sanctuary where hundreds of people have gathered to worship and create loving community since 1862.

 

This is the place where there have been weddings and funerals and Christmas and Easter and Sunday School pageants and annual meetings and the grand sounds of hymn singing. The kitchen and gathering hall have seen hundreds of potlucks and funeral dinners and bazaars. The memories of those who come here now are full of the goodness of a life lived together for generations and shared in good times and bad. Full of the reminders of what it is to love with our whole heart.

Is it any wonder that this is considered not only holy ground, but also beautiful to the eyes of its beholders?

So my question is this: If we can find great beauty in old places, what’s to stop us from seeing great beauty in our saggy, wrinkled, arthritic, thin and grey haired, sometimes-forgetful, slowed-down old bodies which have served us so nobly for so long?

These bodies of ours have withstood countless challenges from the beginning. They have served some of us better than we perhaps deserved. They carry within them a whole history of memories and things worn bright with thinking about them so often. They house the best and the worst of who we have been. In our older age, they remind us of the ghosts that hover still and that we may choose to embrace or send away.

I recently came across this bit of wisdom:

Wrinkles mean you laughed.

Grey hair means you cared.

And scars mean you lived!

How beautiful is that?!

So as I look in the mirror each day, I plan to notice the warmth and glow and beauty of this old body of mine. The wrinkles and the grey hair and the scars. All of it. It is what it is both because I’ve lived as fully as I chose and in spite of the ways that I chose badly. And I plan to honor the ghosts who have carried me along and who still hover to be grace on my journey.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So I choose beauty.

And I’m very okay with that.