When surrounded by near-perfection, it is surprising how much can be learned from imperfection.
I spent the past week with my wife enjoying as near a "perfect" physical surrounding as I have experienced. Comfortable poolside chairs with an ocean view, surrounded by lush gardens, palm trees, and the invigorating Hawaii climate, freed (even mandated!) me to leave aside the regular worries of daily life—there are few scenarios that come as seem as close to perfect, at least in terms of human metrics.
Human beauty was also to be observed—though maybe not the obvious kind.
Between reading and snoozing, I spent a fair bit of time people-watching. The late January crowd at a large-scale upper end resort is comprised mostly of middle-aged and older couples. Prosthetic limbs, wheelchairs, and the obvious manifestations of diseases like Parkinson's are hardly the things that come to mind when one thinks of beauty and Hawaii vacations. But several times I watched amazed from my poolside perch as spouses (I presume) lovingly cared for their ailing partners. At first it seemed the care was mostly one-sided, but observing several such relationships over the course of the week, it became wonderfully clear that it wasn't. There was a beautiful exchange taking place in the returned smiles and unspoken chemistry between two persons who evidently loved and cared for each other.
Or course, the proportion of those dealing with obvious physical trials was minute compared to the "ordinary" couples who surrounded us. At resorts like these, it seems most people keep to themselves (as we did too), preferring to allow the anonymity of the surroundings to enable healthy carefreeness of couple camaraderie. This, too, had an amazing beauty. Intense conversations followed by a tender touch or gentle kiss, the embrace oblivious to anyone else in the world paying attention—all in the freedom from daily obligations or worry about everyday affairs—these were reminders of the many textures of beauty and meaning.
My mind wandered to the vocation that is mine and the mission that is Cardus's. Renewing social architecture requires spending considerable time and energy analyzing both the brokenness of what is and the possibility of what might be. Ideally, we inspire others to seek beauty, truth, and goodness in the reality of their social relationships. Many days, depending on our mood, it has a more practical bent and pushes us towards either cynicism or utopianism.
It is said that the works of God are three-fold—creation, providence, and redemption—but that the crown jewel of his glory is redemption. Perhaps that is why, in a setting where physical and created beauty define the ambiance, I found myself most impacted by a different kind of beauty showcased in the context of life's imperfections and the conquering power of love. Even as we are instructed and inspired by created beauty, we are reminded—by redemptive love in the face of fallenness—of the transforming power and possibilities of grace. It's more than enough to motivate my transition from vacation to vocation.