When inclement weather moves my lunch time walk indoors, I like to utilize an out-of-the-way stairway in the three-story building where I work. My routine goes something like this: 44 steps down, turn around, 44 steps up, lap around the atrium, 44 steps down, turn around, 44 steps up, lap around the atrium. You get the idea. I do as many repetitions as time allows. If it sounds kind of monotonous, it is.
Except for my little wabi-sabi radiator. Situated between the 44 steps down and the 44 steps up, is an ordinary steam radiator with a corroded valve in the most extraordinary shades of turquoise. Since turquoise is my favorite color, seeing that little blue-green burst of color in an otherwise drab and dingy stairwell while trudging (I mean sprinting) up and down the stairs makes my heart happy. It’s true. That little radiator makes me smile. It greets me on every journey up and down the stairs and reminds me that beauty can be found in unexpected places.
As I mentioned in the last post, I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. In the book, Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designer, Poets and Philosophers, author Leonard Koren describes the ancient Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi in this way:
“Wabi-sabi is a beauty of
things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.
It is a beauty of things
modest and humble.
It is a beauty of things unconventional.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about wabi-sabi lately and I think this radiator totally fits the bill. It’s humble, modest, and imperfect. There’s an entire colony of dust mites camped out there. The pipe leading to the valve is a hot mess of chipped paint and rust. Yet, I think it’s beautiful, and finding beauty in a corroded turquoise valve could very well be considered unconventional. Right? Once I recognized the wabi-sabiness of the radiator, I pulled out my phone and snapped a couple of pictures. You know, just in case I ever needed to remember that particular shade of turquoise.
That was on Friday.
Today, I was shocked and horrified to discover that someone had come along and spray painted the valve on the radiator sometime during the weekend!!! With a single spritz of white paint from an aerosol can, some well-meaning maintenance worker had changed, and possibly destroyed, the subtle beauty of my little wabi-sabi radiator. Plus…it’s not even a good paint job! I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse. I only know that today I feel sad and disappointed. And I know that today I understand the meaning of wabi-sabi a little bit better. Today I understand the impermanent part. And I know—without a shadow of a doubt—that because it’s beauty was impermanent, that ordinary/extraordinary humble, modest, imperfect, little radiator really did embody the spirit of wabi-sabi for me. And now it’s gone.
I usually make notes whenever I’m reading a book to record the thoughts or ideas I might want to remember or refer to in the future. This is what I notated from the book mentioned above:
“Beauty is a dynamic event that occurs between you and something else. Beauty can spontaneously occur at any moment given the proper circumstances, context, or point of view. Beauty is thus an altered state of consciousness, an extraordinary moment of poetry and grace.”
I hope you find moments of poetry and grace in the world around you. And when you do, be sure to enjoy them for whatever time they last.