Could it be that if I climbed the dome of heaven and scrabbled and clutched at the beautiful cloth till I loaded my fists with a wrinkle to pull, that the mask would rip away to reveal a toothless old ugly, eyes glazed with delight?
It's a terrifying little image, tearing away the mask of the universe to reveal what's underneath. Dillard imagines something terrifying, based on a Eskimo legend. She's questioning the nature of beauty--that it might be some kind of trick. Think of the Venus flytrap, all sweetness and color until it's jaws snap shut and digestion begins.
In a way, I think life is a lot like that. For instance, a little over a week ago, the world was a place I thought I understood, full of kindness and acceptance and common sense. My jobs paid the bills, for the most part. Everybody I love was safe and healthy. Fast forward to this evening. My dad severely injured himself in a fall. The cost of my health insurance is doubling. I still don't know if I'm teaching next semester. And Donald Trump is going to be President of the United States. The mask has been torn away, and I really don't like what's been revealed.
But I am trying to be positive today. I've purposely avoided listening to or watching any news feeds. I've given myself the liberty to do a little pleasure reading--a short essay from a book written by a friend. His work tends to inspire me, and now I find myself wanting to sit down with my journal and pen. In about an hour, I get to go teach my film class. The movie for tonight is It's a Wonderful Life, one of my favorites.
So, I don't think that beauty is the bait in some cosmic trap. Yes, when I'm doing something I enjoy, I can be lulled into a state of satisfaction and comfort. It's a nice place to be, where the world makes complete and total sense. Of course, that little moment of nirvana lasts about as long as a burning match, and, eventually, it burns your fingers.
However, beauty exists for a reason: to remind us of God's goodness. Yes, there's a lot in my life that doesn't make sense right now, but I have to rely on my faith. That's what being a Christian is all about, isn't it? Letting go of fear and trusting in divine generosity. George Bailey learns that lesson from Clarence, his guardian angel.
Saint Marty gives thanks for the gospel of Frank Capra tonight: it IS a wonderful life.