One thing I’ve loved about my life the past few years: I’ve had the tremendous blessing of seeing so much of America. And just like the song says, America really is beautiful.
A few weeks ago, on a very early flight out of Portland, Oregon, I was treated to a spectacular fast-forward sunrise over Mt. Hood, with the deep valley of the Columbia River shining in the foreground. In the distance, I could see the sharp glacier fields of Mt. Bachelor and the beautiful rolling forests all along the Cascade Range. Lovely!
Some time before that, I found myself in the desert Southwest while the wildflowers were in bloom. Purple, blue, yellow, and red flowers lined the roadways, and the bare bones of the earth stuck up in the distance. At sunset, the rocks along the spectacular cliffs and canyons seemed almost to glow with their own inner light. Amazing.
Walking barefoot though the white, pure sand of a barrier island in the coastal Southeast last fall, I watched a funny little ghost crab scurry away from me to hide under a piece of grey driftwood. Stopped and stood still for a moment, and out he came — waving his claws at me to say, “Don’t you try to grab me!” The sky was blue and creamy-white, puffy clouds drifted lazily overhead on this surprisingly hot afternoon. What a beautiful day and what a beautiful place to be.
In the heart of the urban East a few months ago, I walked through Arlington National Cemetery in silence and respect for the honored dead. It’s a beautiful place, with rolling hills of neatly-mown grass and mournful headstones lined up in thoughtful rows. Elegantly oversized trees provide deep shady spots to sit and reflect. The monuments at the cemetery and elsewhere are built of white or grey marble, and they show the mark of long decades of hard work and dedication from those who keep them in good repair. At the Tomb of the Unknowns, I watched the Old Guards’ attention to every detail and the beautiful ceremony they make of honoring the sacrifice paid by brave young men who never made it home.
Walking through a city on the East Coast, I looked up at massive skyscrapers and marveled. Did you ever think about all the hard work that goes into making just one of those things? The hours someone spent bent over a drafting board, sketching out ideas, the hours of working out the math of time and materials and structural strength, the human labor of digging the foundations and laying the girders in place. And we take all that for granted, but it’s beautiful… and so is the scenery that it builds.
In the upper Midwest, I flew over miles and miles of lakes. Big lakes, little lakes, tiny lakes, giant lakes that hold 21% of the world’s fresh water. Beautiful!
In Sioux Falls, I walked past the busy downtown area and out to the well-manicured city park where I could look at the waterfall that gives the town its name. Here, the bedrock of the continent shakes off its covers and peers out at us — solid, yellow-gold-brown rock that alternately flows underground and then juts in sharp edges all along the course of the Big Sioux River. The falls were gorgeous. But you know what I found most spectacular? There’s a conduit, a pipe, running across the water a few hundred feet below the falls. It makes a kind of bridge that touches down on both sides of the river, and at each end there’s a sign telling people to stay off the conduit. No giant ugly cage around each end, just … a sign. Telling people to stay off. And there’s no graffiti on that conduit, nor any other indication that people ignore that sign. How wonderful to live in a place where the people are so civilized.
Every area I’ve traveled has its own type of beauty: barren desert with the whistling wind and the lonesome buzzard circling overhead. Northern rainforest, drizzling wet with slickery mosses clinging to every tree. Golden-tan waves of wheat and corn, spread in a patchwork quilt to feed a continent. Busy city street with office buildings stretching to the sky…
How sad would it be, if these scenic vistas could talk, and we found out that every single one of them thought they themselves were ugly, but believed some other place was “really” pretty?
… If the amazing cascade of waters flowing over Multnomah Falls actually thought themselves unruly and undisciplined, and longed to be “as pretty as” the ornately-carved marble statues that line the streets of our nation’s capitol?
… Or if the stately redwood trees of the California coast scorned themselves, complained that they were overly tall, stocky and ungainly — and thus both hated and envied the tiny, delicate beauty of a wood violet?
… Or if the spectacular red-rainbow rocks surrounding the Grand Canyon thought themselves horrid and bare, and wished to hide themselves under thick layers of green moss like the black basalts of the Columbia Gorge?
Would the world be as beautiful, if it weren’t so varied?
And wouldn’t it be awful if every beautiful place you’d ever loved, actually hated its looks and wished to look like some other place?
What does all this have to do with self defense? I’ll tell you: a big part of my job involves watching body language while people learn to shoot. I watch body language to help people stay safe, so I can anticipate what they’re going to do next, so I can figure out what questions they might be about to ask, or whether part of my message to them didn’t make it through.
You can’t make a study of body language without becoming aware of bodies. How many different shapes and sizes and colors they come in. And how utterly beautiful most people are, when they let themselves relax and just be.
Because I try to be a good teacher, I’m usually watching what people say with their bodies when I tell them that they are worth it. That their lives are beautiful, valuable, worth defending. And it breaks my heart, every time, when I see a beautiful woman who wishes she had another woman’s type of beauty, or who thinks herself ugly because she doesn’t meet someone else’s standard for what pretty “should” look like. It breaks my heart when I see someone shake her head in denial (“Not me!”) when I tell the class that every one of them deserves to live, deserves to stay safe, deserves to go home to the people who love her.
But it’s still true.
You are beautiful, just the way you are.
Your life is worth defending.