Friday, June 19, 2009

Graceful familiarity



In The 4 Loves C.S. Lewis has many beautiful things to say about storge ("affection") which is the ability to cherish and appreciate the little things that we love and hold dear, both in other people and our surroundings. This kind of love may have been expressed most astutely in that wonderful Gershwin tune They Can't Take That Away From Me. It's the kind of love that basks in the way a person holds their knife or sips their tea.

I myself associate most of the little lovely details of life with my wife. The sound of her laughter. Her sleepy eyes. I could describe in tiny details what she looks like when she reads a book. I have spent many precious moments simply watching her read, noticing how fully she enters the world on the page, the way her eyes dart up and down, how her smile appears and disappears. These little things have become essential to the fabric of my life, beautiful details that illumine the whole, the small idiosyncratic brushstrokes that make a good painting into a masterpiece.

There are also small things that fill my life that turn the mundane into the marvelous. I love the sky at dusk, that moment just before the blue night comes on. The smell of good tobacco. The bitter taste of coffee in the morning. The warmth of the sun coming in through my window after an afternoon nap.

Art is also filled with such details. Sometimes they are intended by the artist and seen and cherished by all who love this work of art but sometimes they are simply part of our subjective, personal experience. Great art evokes both. There's a moment at the start of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, right after the long introduction of So What by Paul Chambers and moments before we first hear Miles' horn, a blink-of-an-eye pause that precedes the beauty to follow, that is one of my favorite moments in music. Also, the last lines of Neruda's Every Day You Play where he says to his beloved: "I want to do to you what Spring does to the cherry trees" are as erotic and beautiful to me as anything from the great mystical poetry of the Song of Songs.

Of all the expressions and forms of art that I know I love none as much as film. There are, therefore, hundreds or thousands little details or moments like these from movies that I could recount, little flashes of brilliance, both personal and objective, that have filled my life with both beauty and meaning. The beginning and end credits of Woody Allen films have this effect on me. Those simple, elegant black and white titles and jazz music make me feel as if I were visiting an old friend, comfortably sitting down and opening a bottle of wine for an evening of good drink and conversation. Almost the entirety of Casablanca is filled with these little details and cherished moments. That is probably what makes it the most beloved film in the world. It is not only wonderfully dramatic, funny and exciting and technically well made (it is well nigh flawless in this regard) but it is also magical. It is filled with unexplainable greatness, beauty that cannot be analyzed or explained but simply experienced and embraced.

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