Each morning, I have the choice of driving east on either Broad Street or Monument Avenue. Oftentimes it is a flip of the coin as to which road I take. Lately, though, I have been consistently following the Monument route because my young passengers are far better off viewing the trees and cobblestones on the avenue than the unlovely signs, gas pumps and concrete of Broad.
Increasingly I find that beauty must be actively sought out. The world can be an ugly place. Often, folks don’t even notice the revolting; we have been blinded to its menace by its very omnipresence.
Ever since I became a parent, I have been acutely aware of how Americans are bombarded with ugliness – through the television, on the radio, in bookstores, and, yes, driving down Broad Street. And daily I battle the ugly.
In my role as a writer, I receive copies of "young adult" books that are marketed to pre and post adolescents. These books are hideous. The cover art is always a close-up of a pouty-lipped female staring blankly through her stringy hair. The story is about this teen -- likely called Loreili, Ariel or Astrid -- who is either a kleptomaniac, suffering from an eating disorder, depressed, or already dead. She lives in a dystopian society and trumpets that it is ok to dress and act like a prostitute as long as you’re not getting paid. On the back cover, other young adult writers rave about the book, calling it “dark,” “intense,” “mesmerizing,” and “horrifying.”
Even younger children’s books often reek of ugliness. Illustrators twist the human form into grotesque caricature. Writers seek to bully kids into the “correct” point of view.
Ugly is all around us and Richmonders forget to see it for what it really is. We fail to notice that the plasticized human bodies on exhibit at the science museum are monstrous and grisly. We tour the Picaso exhibition and suppress our instinctively negative reaction to the “art.” We find amusement in the macabre parade of zombies through Carytown, and the Halloween horrors at the amusement park. And doing thus, we fail our kids.
What we should be doing is filling our children with a daily dose of beauty: taking them to parks and cathedrals, to live performances of dance, theater and symphony. We should spend evenings in the backyard staring up at the mighty stars. And we should read beautiful books to them.
Read and give beautiful stories this holiday season. Scrutinize the masses of offerings on the bookstore shelves and select works that are lovingly illustrated. Look for nature books with photographs that celebrate the infinite variety of the natural world. Focus on authors who tell worthy stories with eloquence. Find tales of self-sacrifice and true heroism.
Rediscover the beauty of the holiday season and share it with your loved ones.
Add these beautiful stories to your Christmas tradition:
“Christmas Every Day,” by William Dean Howells (1892) – An entertaining lesson in the dangers of greed.
“Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” from the New York Sun (1897) – A sterling editorial which reminds us that, “the most real things in this world are those that neither children nor men can see.”
“The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry (1906) --- The timeless tale of selfless devotion between a husband and wife.
The Gospel of Luke 2: 1-17 – The reason for the season.