The Complicated Beauty of A River Run Dry

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The title pays homage to a lyric from this song by The Veils, written by Finn Andrews.

Life is Beautiful, is Ugly, is Beautiful…

Life is beautiful (that is, pleasing to the senses) in many ways, as is commonly described by many of our preferred poets and artists.

But, equally, life can be ugly (displeasing or foul to the senses). There are times when we are forced to squint or gape at devastating happenings, such as natural disasters or the apparent evil that humans are capable of committing.

Therefore, as emotional experience-ers of this old world, we are prone to floating between the positive and the negative, between beauty and ugliness. We can’t help but bear witness the work of angels and the work of devils, both, at different times in our lives.

Of course, though, what is to be considered beautiful and ugly is highly subjective, as evidenced by the fact that not everybody likes the same music, or clothes, or even food. Everything is probably beautiful from one perspective and ugly from another.

Most of us seek out our subjective beauty in life, though (for the most part). We strive for happiness, desire peace … we generally prefer good health, so we act in such a way that we believe will deliver us good health, in one way or another.

Even when people do things that do not improve their health – like indulging in drugs or alcohol – their purpose for that is often still to make themselves feel better, on some level, even if that only numbs them to the pain (physical or mental) they are feeling.

People generally seek comfort, because discomfort is inconvenient.

Beauty and Ugliness Need Each Other

There is something very profound about the fact that darkness cannot exist without light. There can be no concept of darkness without light to contrast it against. Same goes for hot and cold – we wouldn’t be able to define what ‘hot’ is unless we had ‘cold’ to compare it to.

Clearly the same must be true of beauty and ugliness. One cannot exist without the other.

This truth triggers me to realise that beauty and ugliness are, in fact, one and the same. They can’t exist without each other because they are two ends of the same stick – two sides of the same coin. Beauty is ugly, and ugliness is beautiful. 

Still, we are inclined to prefer our subjective beauty and positivity. What I am trying to express in this piece is that taking such a preference is only capable of causing us a degree of dissatisfaction. The same is true of the (smaller number of) people whose preference is ugliness and negativity. In choosing any preference, we set ourselves up for inevitable disappointment at some point or another. Everybody gets at least a bit of both.

(By the way, I’m not about to provide a blueprint for living a life without any disappointments … I’m just sharing some observations which may be useful to you in some way; because I feel like they have been useful for me in understanding the world I live in.)

Apocalypse

21st Century living undoubtedly possesses dystopian undertones. For example, the eerie similarities between Orwell’s famous novel, 1984, and society today have been pointed out a number of times.

Also, the way in which our climate is changing these days (according to our admittedly imperfect researchers) apparently points towards another kind of dystopia – the apocalyptic type.

I think it’s fair and safe to say that, generally speaking, people find the idea of an apocalypse – and of death in most of its guises – to be disturbing, or ugly. People (again, generally) do not seek death, do not enjoy considering death, and they certainly do not know what happens to them after death (which is probably why it seems so daunting).

In a nutshell: death is ugly; and so, by association, is the idea of an apocalypse.

The idea I want to play with here, though, is the idea that death, and the apocalypse for that matter, is something we should kind of desire … to quote Achilles from the film Troy (2004): “The God’s envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal … because any moment could be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed.”

I think there is a deep truth to this quote, and it demonstrates perfectly what I mean by something ugly (in this instance, death) also being beautiful.

The quote also forces my mind to consider this question: if I was immortal, would I feel like a prisoner to life?

The answer, I think, is probably yes. I’m not talking from experience, but I think that I’d be really bored after about 250 years (and I’d consider that to be an optimistic estimation).

With that in mind, it’s fair to say that death is, in its own way, beautiful. It is ugly, no doubt, but it is also beautiful … it gives our lives more value, because we are forced to cherish them more than we would.

How Is A River Run Dry Relevant?

We talk about climate change and global warming, water shortages and an impending apocalypse … This is an ugly topic to think about, of course! In this regard, the image of a river run dry is potent, possessing frightening connotations for the human race.

Still, I can’t help but feel that there is beauty in that too … I sense that the climax of humanity will be the greatest epic poem that was ever told! And yet, nobody will get to hear it told.

What a tragedy, eh?

No, I don’t think so.

As I’ve spoken about enough times, there is light within darkness, there is beauty within ugliness. And (as Shakespeare made quite clear) there is comedy in tragedy!

Those people who are most concerned about climate change must surely draw a glimmer of satisfaction in the idea that humanity, who has almost ruined the paradise that he has been given, will get what’s coming to him in the end! I never thought of a better cause for schadenfreude (deriving pleasure from another’s misfortune). The only problem is we ‘laughers’ will be on the receiving end of the violence too (oops!).

But let’s be honest … if the universe is as infinite as it seems to be, then there will almost certainly be life similar to our own out there, somewhere – at different stages of evolution, and with varying levels of success. With that in mind, the end of the human race isn’t so disastrous, is it? Not in the grand scheme of things, anyhow.

Woah! What are you doing with that gun?!

I’m not saying that we should all become nihilists (believing that our life is meaningless, and rejecting any sense of morality). I’m not saying that we might as well go robbing houses and burning down banks, due to the irrelevance of humans in the bigger picture. What I’m really trying to say is this: life can be very ugly, but we shouldn’t let that get us down. When things seem especially bad, we should still strive towards whatever it is we want to achieve.

The same concept applies to when life is beautiful! We shouldn’t get too lovey-dovey by hugging everyone and everything we see. We should carry on striving/evolving ourselves, in spite of the feeling of satisfaction. Change is the only constant in the universe, so no matter how satisfied we are in a given moment, we should continue to go with the changes.

We all have dreams and ideals, on one level or another … Whether they be achieving some career goal, or ticking off bucket list items, or just settling down somewhere … no matter what the weather is, we should keep on striving towards what we want, just to find out if we can do it. We’re all gonna die anyway, so it’s worth a try, isn’t it?

  1. Merry Martin

    i like what you’re really trying to say, tom. and i might add, that when we notice the ugly, we might in fact rejoice- because, i believe, whenever we notice something unwanted, that’s the creative moment. it’s right then, when we create what is wanted (in ouR world). and i do i think it’s possible to begin shifting our awareness around that. I’m not saying to rejoice in the bad, lol- no, I’m basically saying what you just said- about letting it get us down. we don’t have to let it get us down and not only that, we can secretly smile in the knowing.
    and then, carry on with a peace in our heart and a lightness in our step.

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