Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Rose or the Cabbage

"The question of common sense is always 'What is it good for?' -- a question which would abolish the rose and be answered triumphantly by the cabbage." -- James Russell Lowell

I came across this quote in my class textbook today that I hadn't noticed before. In teaching Romanticism, I discuss how the Romantics reacted against the Age of Reason's philosophies -- that science was the answer to all life's questions. I will admit that Romanticism had its faults; real life is not ideal or beautiful or mysterious sometimes. Too often, though, I throw away the rose for the cabbage -- I focus only on the practicality or usefulness of things, but ignore the felicitous beauty of other things. Practical and useful things bring contentment, sure (TV remotes, can openers, for example), but it's the beautiful things that bring joy and renewal to our lives.

Case in point. Because the doctor told me my bad cholesterol is too high, he strongly suggested I start getting more exercise and eating better. I started walking in the evenings in my neighborhood because it was the most practical use of my limited time, and thus fulfilled the doctor's prescription for me. I didn't much care for it at first. I wanted to be hiking or mountain biking in the woods somewhere, not walking in a circle past rows of suburbia housing. When I started looking for the beauty in the seemingly mundane, though, things changed. I noticed how the woods smelled differently as I passed the undeveloped lots, how houses even had different odors as I walked past the open garage doors. Looked up and traced the zig-zag silhouettes of bats against the evening sky as they flew from one street light to the next. Heard at least four distinctly different insect sounds (crickets, cicadas, katydids, and one I can't identify). Totally useless and impractical pursuits, I know, but well worth my attention. The laps passed effortlessly.

Eating better, that's a different story.

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