Things of Beauty? Joy Forever — Even with ME/CFS

Jody Smith considers how things we consider beautiful can help feed a starving soul ...

I spent every day for years propped up on pillows on my bed. I could see out my window to the left. My messy closet was to the right. Looking straight ahead I saw a television, a messy desk and a dresser.

Then one year on a rare Christmas shopping expedition, my daughter Rachel the Chauffeur was with me in a department store, and as we neared a bunch of prints (pictures not fabric) I said in passing, “That’s nice.” I stood and looked for a moment at a scene of what felt like a French village.

A bicycle was leaning against a shop called the Elysian Café. An open gateway could be envisioned to lead down a pathway that led off in the distance to … freedom? anywhere I wanted to go that was away from my bed?

That’s nice, indeed.

Then she and I were on our way through the crowded aisles. But she took note that there was something that I’d said I liked. (I’m apparently not very helpful when people ask me for gift ideas for my birthday or Christmas). She made another trip to that store later unbeknownst to me, and bought me that print as a Christmas present.

I was quite touched by this. And I was happy to discover that the print that I had pointed out in passing looked beautiful on the wall of my bedroom. It wasn’t very big, it was just 19 x 15 inches. But it fit as if it belonged there in a spot that was directly in my line of vision, above the TV, as I lay propped up on my bed.

And since I spent hours there every day, the picture contributed daily to my need for beauty and imagination. When we were eventually able to upgrade a few things in the bedroom, its greens, reds and browns became the colours we went for.

It’s amazing what a thing of beauty can do for a starving life.

Some of us are fortunate enough to be living in beautiful homes with great views out the windows. Some of us have nice wardrobes, nice things. Many of us are not that fortunate. For those of us whose finances are in tatters, who make do with second-hand possessions whose only selling points are that they were cheap or free, whose homes or clothes don’t reflect us at all … every little bit of beauty feeds the soul.

One winter, my thing was high heels (before my legs and feet started ailing) even on days when I didn’t leave the house. That winter I also took money out of the grocery budget for the first tube of mascara that I’d bought in several years. I had sworn off the stuff when I was spending most of my time in bed, a lot of that time asleep, and I was sporting raccoon and dark circles under my eyes any time I put on eye makeup. I mean, what was the point?

When you spend so much time struggling with basic issues like breathing and trying to walk down the hall to the bathroom under your own steam, the niceties of life fall by the wayside and languish, well, for years. Pretty things become superfluous, and fall under the category of non-essentials that are as much a part of your life as a new car or an ocean cruise.

And when even the concept of beauty lies dormant, under layers of empty years like the remnants in an archaeological dig, it’s hard to get excited about the idea that it matters. Maybe you don’t believe it matters anymore. Maybe you suspect that that was all part of the happy, naive illusions you used to dwell in before ME/CFS trampled you, and now you are too cynical and jaded to give it head room.

But work with me here.

Do you feel an unexpected sense of uplift at the sound of your (almost-forgotten) favourite song? Does joy swell when you see the flowers come out in the spring or a majestic sunset? If you happen to look good one day (by accident, no doubt) do you get a split-second glimpse of your old self and experience a wavering hope that you might still be in there after all?

Cultivating beauty may be something you’ve forgotten about, and maybe you’ve forgotten how. Just maybe you’ve forgotten why. But it is definitely worth giving some thought to, and maybe even pursuing.

Since I came down with ME/CFS, I’ve never been in the position of being able to renovate or redecorate in any big way. And that is a bummer, no doubt about it. But beauty is worth looking for.

I bought a glorious emerald green glass bottle for a couple of dollars at a second hand store, and it’s ridiculous how happy it made me feel when I saw how the light hit it, how sleek and elegant it looked on my dresser. I’ve got a lot of mileage out of that emerald bottle.

And the fact that the green of the bottle goes sublimely with the greens in Rachel’s Christmas present to me, is sometimes enough to make my day.

Have you been missing beauty? Have you been able to bring some into your life once again?

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