It is a fact of life that one has to leave many things behind, often very dear and beautiful things. We always hope that the people in whose hands we are leaving our loved objects – pets, clothes, houses, paintings, even friends – will treat them with the same love and respect that we showed. But love, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Do we have the right to feel affronted when things are done differently, when people make their individual mark of what they consider to be true and beautiful on our previously-loved things? A painting reframed in ornate gold, a dress shortened or dyed a boring black, a dog fattened up and sleeping on the never-allowed-in-my-house bed, a room decorated with paisley wallpaper or painted purple. How beholden are our hearts to beauty? Our beauty?
Inspired by my artist mother, I built a cob house, a sculpture of space and light, and filled it with beautiful things. It was a resting place for the soul, something every visitor enjoyed and appreciated. But then I had to up and go, to a faraway place called Australia. I pulled up my roots and sold my house. The prospective owners moved in. The sale fell through and they opted for renting instead. Then the rent payments fell behind.
With the intention of confronting them with their lack of payment, we arrived in town and knocked on the door. They made new promises. I considered giving them another chance, but as I walked away again, I could hear the house cry out to me. What had they done to all the beauty?!
Even in its emptiness, the house had been lovely and peaceful, the light falling through numerous stained-glass windows and reflecting softly on the uneven textures of the walls. There was splendour in its high thatched roof, wooden staircases and the patterns of its pole structure. But now it was dressed up in kitsch costume jewellery, tatty clothes and hair curlers. My heart ached at the ugliness of messily painted wooden cupboards and a mishmash of trinkets exhibited on the built-in shelves where once stood art books and poetry collections.
The garden, which I had left in an abundance of greenery, cobble stones and cement sculptures, was wrecked. Trees and shrubs had disappeared, stepping stones displaced. Gone was the lovely trickling sound of water from the fish pond – a dash of sand on the dry bottom was all that was left. The profusion of philodendrons and clivias had been cut back and hacked off. The garden, if one could still call it that, had turned into a mangy and underfed dog. Neglected. Ugly.
I wept at the extinction of beauty.
It was not only because it was still my property that I felt so distraught. What had once been an aesthetic pleasure, was now a dump. It was beauty I was craving and the lack thereof was physically painful.
Was I wrong in what I considered rightful indignation at the change? Did the tenants not regard their version of interior decorating as, if not beautiful, at least pretty and tasteful? Surely tastes differ and not everyone likes the same paintings, furniture arrangements or garden landscaping. If beauty cannot be defined, who was I to judge?
I still do not know the answers to these questions. I want to cling to my own interpretation of beauty, I want to be an aesthetic snob and dismiss what does not resonate with my inner truth. For now, for a little while, while the property is still mine, that is exactly what I shall do. I’ll kick out the tenants and replace them with someone who appreciates my kind of beauty. But after that? I’ll have to teach my heart to let go. For beauty is in the heart of the beholder.