Beauty and Radical Amazement

Just yesterday I spent the day with my four-year-old son.  He was home sick but feeling well enough to complete a puzzle together, read and watch a little TV.  It was a beautiful day, so I encouraged him to step onto our back deck to feel the sunshine.  We don’t spend a lot of time on that deck — it’s small and, more to the point, it overlooks an unsightly alley and a pile of rubble that accompanies the vacant and dilapidated houses next door.

On this day, I stepped into the sunshine to discover myself having a typical reaction: “Too bad about the view,” I thought to myself, “especially on such a pleasant Spring day!”  Shamir, for his part, stepped onto the deck, looked at the pile of bricks, dirt and glass next door and said excitedly, “Look Abba, flowers!”  I looked and discovered to my amusement that he was identifying several dandelions sprouting from the heap.  I had barely noticed.  Where I saw weeds, he saw flowers.  Where I saw trash, he saw beauty.

It’s been close of two years since we moved to Baltimore and Reservoir Hill.  I must confess that my first impressions, though largely positive, were tempered by the good number of vacant properties, accumulated trash in some yards, crumbling historic homes so far removed from their glory days.  During my time here, my attitude has changed. I have been struck by how much progress has been made in such a short time: more homeowners, fewer vacants and homes worthy of their historic status, the new playground, the community farm and the transformation of Whitelock Ave. which you can read about here (RHIC Green) and here in Teddy Krolik’s beautiful posts on MIT’s CoLab radio.  I have also come to know many of my neighbors, their stories, interests and concerns.  But more than this, I (like my son) have begun to notice how much beauty is peeking out from the cracks.  I know neighbors working two or three jobs to make ends meet who still have time to prune their hedges and plant modest gardens.  I see children shooting hoops or playing in sprinklers.  I see the Druid Hill Park cherry blossoms in full bloom from my bedroom window and our first red tulip returning for an early glimpse of Spring.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement… get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted.”  It’s not just that beauty is in the “eye of the beholder.”  Radical amazement must be cultivated.  We choose what (and how) to behold.  Which will it be, the flowers or the weeds?