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The Beauty in Useful

“Why is art beautiful? Because it is useless. Why is life ugly? Because it is all aims and purposes and intentions…. The beauty of ruins? The fact that they were no longer of any use. The sweetness of the past? Being able to remember it, because to remember the past is to make it the present again, and the past is not and cannot be the present — the absurd, my love, the absurd.” — Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

“My father said to me, ‘Be useful.’ Useful not only to yourself, but useful to your neighborhood, your country, the world. It entails everything.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger, from Men’s Health

If art is beautiful because it’s useless, does that same criteria apply to a lifetime? What make life beautiful anyway? Is it spontaneity and happenstance or structure and purpose? Doesn’t a lifetime require a bit of both?

When we systematize our lives we are adding routines that sustain us and increase our effectiveness. Routines don’t have to mean our lives are routine. If a purposeful and intentional life is an ugly life to Pessoa, I would argue it shines a light on our lives, making them more beautiful. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all. A painter may find rigid conformity to accepted rules ugly and confining, while an architect or structural engineer finds great beauty in the very same rule.

We are, each of us, mere memories in the making. What will make our lives beautiful is largely up to us, and it may inspire others. Usefulness is a ripple across time and space. It magnifies our presence into something tangible. Whether we swim in a small pond or a vast ocean, we make a ripple. Done well, a lifetime can be quite beautiful indeed. And isn’t our lifetime our most essential work of art?

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  1. This is an interesting idea. the Bible says everything in life is meaningless, doesn’t that make life meaningless too? Doesn’t make it beautiful? Useless just like art

    1. Have you read Kessinger’s poem, The Indispensable Man? It speaks to the idea of meaninglessness:
      Take a bucket and fill it with water,
      Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
      Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining,
      Is a measure of how much you’ll be missed.
      So what are we to do? Become nihilistic or to embrace the beauty? To create meaning in the moment we occupy, even knowing the universe fills the void we leave? We inevitably return to infinity. Each of us reconciles this in our own way. I acknowledge but don’t dwell on the void being filled back in, but the small ripple I might make in my time. Like a sandcastle built in the wet sand below the high tide mark, we know it will be swept away, but it may be beautiful in the sun until then. We may each make such beautiful moments in our time.

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