Can We Find Beauty in Everything?
Earlier this week, I took the bus to the Rockaways for work. The Rockaways, aka Rockaway Beach, is a peninsula in Queens, a borough of New York City, filled with small towns, main streets, beaches, and boardwalks. The Rockaways are immortalized in the Ramone's classic "Rockaway Beach." As a teenager, with a crew cut and a collection of mad stiletto heels, I fantasized about “hitching a ride to Rockaway Beach.” I believed that I would find my true punk mecca “Up on the roof, out on the street, down in the playground, the hot concrete.”
On the bus, I was reading about a new exhibit at The Museum of Jewish Heritage in NYC -- Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. This exhibition brings together more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs from over 20 institutions and museums around the world to explore Auschwitz, a complex of 48 concentration and extermination camps, at which 1 million Jews—and tens of thousands of others—were murdered during the Holocaust. The exhibition examines this concentration camp, as a physical location —the largest documented mass murder site in human history — and as a symbol of the manifestation of hatred and human barbarity.
I plan to see this exhibition and know that it won’t be easy. Walking from the bus stop, I reflected on what I would see at the exhibition, how I would feel, and in what way would I be impacted by the experience. Will I cry? Will I feel sick to my stomach? Will it heighten my anger and fear of our current political and social climate?
Will I find any beauty in it?
At that exact moment, I walked passed an abandoned house that was covered with panels. On each panel was a mural. On one side of the house, each mural had an aquatic theme.
On the other side, the themes were of land, air, love and beauty.
It was a reminder that beauty matters, love matters, nature matters.
When faced with despair and brutality, concentration camp prisoners smuggled art supplies and created art. This act of defiance served to create an eyewitness report of the horrors going on all around them. It was also a resistance to the Nazis' efforts to dehumanize the prisoners. The art was escape from the brutal reality and a hope for a better future.
In my "BeautyManifesto," I state “The pursuit and /or expression of beauty does not diminish or devalue individual or collective suffering.” While these murals on an abandoned house on Rockaway Beach are far removed from the art of concentration camp prisoners or what I will see at Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away, it is a reminder to ‘Find Beauty in Everything.”
And when beauty is found, its presence is powerful.
Now, for your listening pleasure, The Ramone's "Rockaway Beach."