IMYS #27 - Touching Beauty

Reaching for the infinite

“He saw the beauty in it and he reached out and touched it.”

That’s what Dave Chappelle said about one of his sons trying out standup comedy. When he said it, he glanced just above head height and raised his palm on a lightly extended arm. It was a gesture of desire and trepidation. His gaze wasn’t toward the heavens. It was somewhere just above where he currently sat. It was a perfect encapsulation of how each of us could reach for beauty.

It’s important too that the word here is “touch.” It’s not experience. It’s not own. It’s not master. It’s not practice. It is merely to touch. That word reminds us of the gossamer fragility of beauty. Handle it too roughly and it can disappear.

For some of us, there’s a deeply ingrained Protestant work ethic that tends to eschew beauty except in the sense of production or output. We even have words for it like craftsmanship which separate that kind of effort from something that is Art with a capital A. I do think there is a through line with all these concepts which is that of beauty. I believe that beauty is what Dave Chappelle was talking about touching.

Chappelle describes his child seeing the beauty “of this thing I do” which is his work as a comedian, specifically as a standup comedian. He acknowledges that his work is art and that it is in and of itself not necessarily beautiful. The beauty lies in the act of sharing that art. It’s the incredible binding of energy between a performer and an an audience. It exists in a moment yet it lingers in our blood.

Think of the performances you’ve seen and how you felt for hours or days after. There’s a reason people say things like, “That concert changed my life.” I believe that it literally changes our lives. We are different people when we walk through the exits. Our molecules have shifted. We are bereft of these kinds of experiences in our current lockdown world. It is a great loss.

That’s a lot of musing about art and how we experience it on a path to beauty. It’s heady stuff. What hit me about the comment and the moment in the show is what it meant to me as a parent.

Chappelle was tapping into that primordial motivation parents have to see our children find beauty. We talk about the biological imperative to perpetuate our DNA and, sure, that’s the mechanism of procreation. What that ignores is how we get from our birth to the birth of our grandchildren. That arc is full of infinite narratives where we as parents fail or succeed at our children’s ability to reach out and touch beauty.

In many ways, parents aren’t fully responsible. There’s a great big world out there which isn’t always so focused on beauty. This is another topic that Chappelle touches on when he describes the event where his son tried standup. It was a community event to raise money. That community bit is important. Chappelle has put himself and his child into the midst of a community of others also reaching to touch beauty whether it be their performance or the act of helping others.

We tend to wallow in the image of the lonely artist creating in fit of near madness. What it could look like instead is a community where each of us is supported in our attempts to touch beauty. Maybe it’s in cooking the perfect pizza. Maybe it’s in writing a book that your neighbors all read. Maybe it’s in buying something made by that woman at the Christmas Market.

Reaching out to touch beauty is a vulnerable thing to do. Imagine it physically. With our arm and our gaze raised, our balance is uncentered, our soft belly meat exposed, our intentions laid bare. We are sharing of ourselves in the hopes that our community will treat the beauty inside with love and respect.

What beauty have you reach out and touched today?

Watch me try standup


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Read Boyce Upholt's "The Meaning of Air"


Have a great week. Let me know if you touch any beauty.

Your guide,

Alex