There is something uniquely beautiful in the sight of a city newly cleaned by a fresh rain. And this has never been more true than while living in Los Angeles during the last four years of drought. Any rainfall feels like a special treat. On Tuesday morning I was driving along the 134W near Eagle Rock when I rounded the corner that allows me see across the valley all the way to Downtown LA and I audibly gasped. The air was so clear and clouds were just beginning to disperse and little golden threads of light were lighting up downtown. “Wow.” I breathed again and did what I do so often when I encounter beauty – I looked around for someone to share it with. Of course I was driving alone but I glanced into the windows of the cars next to me just to see if anyone else was seeing what I was seeing. Unfortunately it is difficult to share meaningful experiences on a busy freeway between cars so this was a moment of beauty I had to savor on my own.
Growing up my parents read aloud to us almost every night. One of my favorite read-aloud books was “Little House in the Big Woods” which my parents read to us when I was five and my younger sisters were three and two. We savored every detail of the story. Giggling when Pa called Laura “half pint” and riveted with excitement when the Ingalls had to light fires to keep the wolves away from the horses. The next morning, my sisters and I would act out the stories we had heard the night before and make up alternate endings and scenarios for the Ingalls family. When we were playing with our cousins or little friends, we were always disappointed if they were not familiar with the little house in the Big Woods and could not share our love of the story. We had found something that resonated with us so deeply that we wanted to share it with as many people as possible.
My love of stories and my love of sharing them with others only grew as I grew. Next I discovered children’s theater and radio shows. It is debatable how much “Adventures in Odyssey” or a community theater’s production of “Little Red Riding Hood” really count as art but at a young age it did not really matter as long as I could share them with other people. I have always loved being in an audience. If you know me at all, you know how much I love films and that my favorite way to watch them is in a theater. Alternately laughing and crying along with a room of tens or hundreds or thousands of other people has always been such a rich experience for me. Sharing moving experiences with others adds depth and nuance that I cannot experience on my own. I have had some of the most profound and spiritual experiences of my life in a movie theater. I resonate with contemporary critics who liken cinema to our postmodern church sanctuary. Sharing wonder, delight, sadness, and introspection with others is a truly bonding experience.
Sharing good meals with other people is one of my favorite things to do. Eating as an act by itself is pretty boring but my appetite grows with other people at the table. I relish well-prepared complex food but my mother teases me that I would happily eat plain rice as long as it is served on a beautiful plate at a beautiful place setting. I agree except to add: as long as I am not eating alone. Food tastes and looks better at a table full of people talking and enjoying the meal. In college, a friend and I had a tradition of Sunday night (canned) soup and (supermarket) french bread for dinner. An almost embarrassingly simple meal but we still remember those dinners fondly. Meals by myself are pitiful affairs – even the most complex menus – because beautiful food is meant to be shared and savored with others.
Photography is another way that we try to capture a beautiful moment or experience to share with others. I love photos that catch a person mid-laugh or the first pink streaks of sunrise. Photos can capture moments that will never be repeated but allow us to still marvel at them with the photographer. I recently realized that most of the reason I enjoy Instagram (despite the rampant self-promotion and commercialization) is that I am being invited to share another person’s experience of beauty or amusement or curiosity. I like seeing photos of your baby not just because she is cute but also because I get to experience your joy and delight for your baby (though obviously in a much diminished way) with you. With our prolific photo sharing we are inviting others to say, “Wow” with us. It is a deeply human desire to want to share experiences with others and beautiful experiences all the more so.
There is a reason it is so profound when you find someone you can share life with intimately on a daily basis. Your individual experiences are brought depth and nuance by sharing them with someone else. And when you are invited into someone else’s experience on a personal level, it can feel like you are being given new eyes with which to see the world. I think part of the reason sex is so enjoyable is because your pleasure is deepened by sharing it with another person. And hopefully not just any other person but a person that you know and knows you on a deep soul level – someone who has already experienced and appreciated beauty and life with you. It is possible to imitate the physical pleasure alone but you cannot imitate the great joy and beauty that comes with sharing pleasure by yourself.
It is essential to our experiences of beauty to keep sharing them with our families, friends, broader communities, and even strangers. Obviously which experiences and how you share them will differ among those groups but I think we are often missing out on enhancing beautiful experiences because we forget to share them. I love to see the way your new dress lights up your face or hear the thoughts you had about a great book you just read or see a screenshot of your latest favorite film scene. Beauty can be found and shared in happy moments or sad moments or even confusing moments. I believe sharing those moments communally deepens all of our experiences of beauty. And sometimes I just want to go to the beach with a friend so we can watch the sun set over the cliffs and waves and say, “Wow” aloud together.