When I was really little, I remember my mom reading C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to me and, of course, I absolutely loved it. But there was one line that really bothered me where C.S. Lewis describes the main characters, some children my age, trudging through the snow overnight. He describes how beautiful the landscape was the moonlight reflecting off of the snow but how they were too tired to really enjoy it.
This bothered me for multiple reasons. I think I may have been a bit jealous that they were able to find the wardrobe that led to a magical world, and I felt that they should be enjoying every moment because they were so lucky! On top of that, there are so many books with grand adventures in beautiful landscapes and the characters always seem to preoccupied with whatever is going on to realize how lucky they are to be horseback riding through towering mountains and along sparkling blue seas. I remember little-me making a promise to myself that no matter how painful or exhausting my got life, I wanted to always see the beauty.
When my family went through hard times I would rewrite the promise in my journal and try to remember what I had meant, what I had felt when I made that promise. There were times so black that there seemed no beauty to see. I remember carrying the promise all the way through university where the class load and work overwhelmed me. Despite always being busy, there was always time to stop and admire the bright purple buds on the tree outside of the library. Of course, there have been plenty of wonderful days in my life as well, where beauty had no filter of pain and could be enjoyed in an easy golden light. Lately, my life has been so bright. Living abroad on an island, sandwiched between emerald mountains and sparkling seas, I have found it very easy to stop and appreciate the wonders of nature and there has been plenty to enjoy.
It was this past weekend that made me again think of the promise, always see beauty no matter how bad the pain. So let’s fast forward to the moment I am standing with my running shoes sinking into the mud, frozen, exhausted and afraid. After a couple weeks of gloriously warm weather, spring took a day off which happened to be the day of the famous Gyenogju Cherry Blossom Race, leaving all the runners in their tank tops and shorts in below freezing weather. The wind bit through my thick winter coat which I was reluctant to take off, and I kept worrying about my weak knees and ankles that had caused problems so I hadn’t trained the two weeks prior. I followed the shivering crowd out to the windy field and stopped.
Above the mountains, and illuminating the elegant ridges of an ancient tower, the sun rose still deep gold in the early morning air. And suddenly, the fear of not being able to finish the race and the bitter cold was less important. Beauty was here. And I was grateful to be here, too.
Then there was a crack of glittering fireworks, and an explosion of fluttering confetti filled the air as the runners set off. The 10k course was set around a lake which was well-known for thick cherry blossoms and peaceful views. As I ran I stared up at the branches of fluffy white. These trees were just past their peak which meant more pink of petal-less flowers were showing and the white petals were floating gently through the air. It was magical. And the people around me weren’t running to set a record. They were running to see beauty too. Girls in flower crowns and somehow flawless hair down (leave it to Koreans to have perfect hair even when running), laughed and chatted and stopped to take pictures of each other. And I stopped worrying about whether my ankle would hold; I started drinking in the morning air which grew warmer and brighter. I listened to the sound of friends laughing, the volunteers cheering encouragements in Korean, and the sound of traditional Korean music performances. There was a rocky cliff side rising triumphantly above the fading pink trees, there was a glint of pale lake blue behind a thick grove of still full white blossoms. Everywhere there was something beautiful to see.
Beauty like this is always a gift. Flowers, a sunrise, or a long peaceful walk with good friends—in happy times is good for the soul. But when there is pain, beauty has a specific power. It has the power to keep us going.
Suffering is isolating, it makes us reflect inward and see our weakness and vulnerability. Often times, pain is something we want to hide because it is connected to a trait in ourselves that we find unattractive or we find the pain itself ugly. Even when we do want to share what we are going through, it’s hard to verbalize and hard to truly share even when we want to. And it is when I am suffering or even just tired that it is too easy to get distracted by all the hardship to remember how important beauty is.