Every year, our school participates in the National PTA contest called "Reflections". Each child is encouraged to create a work of art; literary, visual, or photographic; share it with their classroom and submit it for judging.
We're always on the lookout for inspiration and excuses to get creative. So we eagerly anticipate the theme's unveiling, and then we spend September brainstorming ideas.
This year, we started working as soon as the signs proclaiming "Beauty is..." went up at the school. And by we, I mean that Ms. Bumblebee sat down to color and I tried not to complain about the crayons left on the floor, or the scraps of paper strewn across the living room for a week.
Then she said she wanted to take a picture.
Wonderful, I said, and took her to a park.
She frowned and said she meant a picture of the sign at the gas station.
Not just the sign, the hinge that holds the sign.
It makes a letter, she told me, it's awesome.
My thoughts were along the lines of a rusty hinge not being the epitome of beauty. However, out loud I told her that was fine. But, maybe we could just look around the park and see if maybe there was something beautiful there.
You might be inspired. You don't even have to plan it, I told her. Play with the camera settings, lets see if you can do black and white, or that cool color swap thing. Penguin wished out loud that her school was participating.
Bumblebee just rolled her eyes at me. And then she found an "R" hidden in tree roots.
Okay. I want to be encouraging, tree roots are definitely a step up from a rusty hinge. Penguin pointed out a knot hole "o". I mentioned that the gorgeous fountains formed an "i".
She took a picture of a crack in the sidewalk.
And a single, fallen leaf.
That was laying on a litter-strewn ground.
With a piece torn off.
"We need to go to the gas station," she grumbled.
Shall we say I was a bit disconcerted and more than a bit frustrated?
But this was her project. So I encouraged her to keep snapping pictures. I didn't let her see me shudder when she tried a close up of our trash can. "The theme is 'beauty is'" I reminded her.
"I know," she calmly stated, playing with the focus as she trained the camera on the bricks of our fireplace.
"Um, at least use an uncracked brick," I said unhelpfully. She just shook her head then cocked it to the side, grinned and clicked the button.
I quietly thanked the powers that be for digital cameras and (almost) limitless exposures.
Dutifully, I helped her hook up the camera to the computer and upload (download?) photos. I opened adobe for her. I helped her figure out how to open whichever picture she wanted to for editing. And then I stepped back and tried not to think about the trash can photo.
At any rate, I consoled myself, it's unique.
She carefully edited each photo, playing with tools I didn't know we had. She smudged up backgrounds until I could hardly recognize them. She used funky cutters to trim the photos down and focus on the letter she saw.
Her vision began to manifest.In the end, she had an alphabet of hidden letters. Including the rusty hinge of the local gas station sign, her friend's leg in flamingo-pose, a variety of rocks and tree branches and bushes. Not to mention that sidewalk crack. All lovely, viewed in the right perspective.
I discovered that beauty isn't confined to the big picture. Beauty is letting go. It's a 7 year old creating her personal vision. Beauty is listening to laughter and plotting and 'Yes!' as she discovers a letter hidden in an unexpected place. Beauty isn't simply found in the things poets write of. It isn't bigger or better. Sometimes its smaller, subtler. (Sometimes, much subtler.)
As Bumblebee said as we filled out the paperwork together, "With your imagination you can see anything, anywhere."
As I look at the images she created from the bits of real life most of us overlook, either intentionally or unintentionally, I also realize that like the old adage says, beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.
Beauty is everywhere, if you look through a child's eyes.