The Pull of Beauty is Softer than Ice
Reflections on the Spiritual Side of Ice Skating
With help from Meryl Davis and Charlie White
Beauty is that which glistens on the edges of our yearnings and lures us into the depths of things.
So then, as Rilke says, we need to feel it all: the whole of it, the beauty and the terror. This does not mean we are passive pawns in a fatalistic universe. On the contrary, we have the power of improvisation in this universe of Flow where "no feeling is final." We can let go, we can trust, we can walk the path of beauty. This is how we "keep going." But we do not walk alone. With the companionship of divine Beauty always re-creating out of chaos and pain, we can finally relax and let our roots spread deeply and peacefully into the welcoming earth, wherever we happen to be.
So then, all is not good, but goodness can be resurrected into new forms of beauty, even if tinged with tragedy. As Whitehead says, “The Adventure of the Universe starts with a dream and reaps tragic beauty.”
Beauty is left as the one aim which by its very nature is self-justifying...The real world is good when it is beautiful.
...and when one of them meets the other half, the actual half of himself, whether he be a lover of youth or a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy and one will not be out of the other's sight, as I may say, even for a moment...
The Pull of Beauty is Softer than Ice
When we watch them dance, something happens inside us. Their dancing becomes, for us, a lure for feeling and reflection.
We are reminded that we, too, dwell within a world of struggle, risking falling; that we, too, seek harmony in our relations with others, with ourselves, with something that glistens like ice; that we, too, are always moving, back and forth, inside and out; and that we, too, yearn for periods in our lives when we are skating across ice, frontwards and backwards.
Their dancing becomes a metaphor for our lives and those of others, for what we seek and what we know.
Of course we are nervous, too. We know that we, too, face danger amid our yearning: a fear of crashing, of things falling apart. We want the best for them and for us. We really don't want anybody to fall. What's the good in that?
We know that they have practiced relentlessly to get where they are, and we admire their discipline. And we know that, behind the scenes, there must sometimes be tensions and irritations. But somehow they've made the best of things. As Patricia Adams Farmer puts it: "Even small, irritating events and obstacles can serve as practice, which then prepares us for the tougher matches ahead."
But we find ourselves asking: Why do they do it? Deep down, what pulls them forward, day by day and year by year, coach by coach and mother by mother.
It is not really the desire to win or to compete with others. Perhaps it is not even the desire for perfection, as powerful as that desire can be.
After all, no feeling is final. Even after a bow, there's something ahead. The future never stops and says Amen. It just keeps coming with new and often unexpected turns, a creative advance into novelty.
The Pull of Beauty
For my part, I think they seek something which "glistens on the edges of our yearnings and lures us into the depths of things." This something that glistens is more perfect than perfect because it includes the fallings and the failings. It is also much softer than ice, because when you fall into it, it is a bit more like the touch of a mother's arms or the warmth of an embrace than a hard surface. I'll call it the Glistening.
The funny thing is: it takes training to learn how to fall into the Glistening, just as it takes training to learn how to fall into ice.
The best training is falling itself. Sometimes when we fall we are not sure we can get up, but we do. This getting up is itself a kind of beauty, and probably the deepest kind. It is more powerful than any score on a scoreboard.
When we get up from a falling, with help from others and with help from the Glistening, there is a kind of resurrection, a new life. It builds upon the falling, sometimes making a way out of no way, as the theologian Monica Coleman puts it. There may indeed be moments when, after the falling, we skate smoothly, even effortlessly, for a time, and these have their beauty.
But the heart of the matter is that there is tremendous beauty in the getting up, especially when we are helped by another. In the holding of our hands, in the hug, in the helping, the Glistening is warmer than anything you can imagine. Some say that even as the feelings pass, they are carried into the Glistening where they live forever.
There are so many kinds of hugs. Hugs of relief, hugs of happiness, hugs of consolation, hugs of intimacy. Most of them express a desire for connection, for community, for what we might call withness.
Our bodies are with us all the time, happily and sadly. But the kind of withness to which the Glistening calls is shared feeling and shared destiny. Imagine a world that is a community of communities of communities in which people enjoy local bonds with friends and family and neighbors, and also have a sense of being bonded with people in other parts of the world. Imagine that the communities are creative, compassionate, equitable, participatory, multi-cultural, and ecologically wise, with no one left behind. Now that's withness.
For my part, I cringe when I hear Americans shouting USA, USA. I don't mind the healthy rivalry of communities competing with one another, but I have no desire to wave a flag in the face of others and say: We are number one. What's the good in that? It's very immature.
What I admire most is that, after the hug of congratulations, there comes a collective hug with people of all nations, saying "we are with each other, we are together on a small but finite planet that allows us to ice skate and hold each other, with no one left behind." No more winners and losers, just the Glistening and its inclusive embrace. It's very olympian.
When I watch Meryl and Charlie dance, this is the invitation I hear. Their dancing does not belong to them alone. It belongs to us. It is an invitation to say to others: "Here, please take my hand. I am small and sometimes awkward, but I'd like to dance with you. If we fall, no problem. We'll help each other up, trusting in the beauty."
-- Jay McDaniel