Beauty, a continuing present

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Cy Twombly

A mi tía Tamara.

Beauty can be found in the things less expected: In the harmony but also in the chaos. In a perfect circle but also in a doodle without specific form. Beauty is not a static concept. It has been extensively defined, explained, analyzed but at the end it can be resumed as that thing that makes us alive. The story we have from an experience, a souvenir that triggers our emotions, a very personal feeling – even if sometimes it involves groups. For Baudelaire it is something weird, for Stendhal it is the promise of happiness, for Kant all the things that provide universal pleasure. It can be superficial or profound, material or spiritual. Any of its forms makes our journey more enjoyable. For us, women, beauty canons have also become a pressure, and for some even a restriction to our total freedom. For others, it is the way to express our sensuality. In this opportunity I would like to talk about the time I discovered beauty in the way someone fought for her life.

My aunt Tamara got lung cancer. She was an electric engineer in times where that career was a rare option amongst women in Venezuela. She worked hard, she was always there for all my cousins and me (she didn’t have kids), and she was the strongest woman I had ever met. She did not ask us for help when she got sick but at some point she was not able to drive and she asked me to take her to her chemotherapies. I saw beauty in her tired eyes. In her tumbling hands. In her pink lipstick but also in her face without makeup. I found beauty in her bald head – that she never hid with a wig. I found beauty in the way she was fighting to be alive while at the same time was enjoying her present.

The clinic was in a building facing “El Avila”, the mountain that surrounds Caracas. Caracas, my hometown city is a valley. A valley that my grandmother tells me used to be very fresh and even cold. In the present, it is warmer and it is known for being the second most dangerous city in the world but if there is something that has not changed it is that beautiful mountain. That mountain gives each caraqueño the hope of a better future. It reminds us how lucky we are for being born in a country with such a generous and breathtaking nature. The clouds falling asleep and covering the top of the mountain give us the sense of belonging, the sense of humanity. The beauty that has not been created by the human being becomes a need, an escape, a recall for us to realize our place in this universe. That was the sight my aunt had each time that reddish liquid distanced her from death – or at least that is what she thought. Everyone knew her because she was always smiling and talking to people. She was the forewoman of a construction and she never stopped working. She was stubborn, she was enduring, she was someone who could repair everything at home without calling a technician or a plumber. She was the type of woman I want to be someday.

The day I got my first job interview my parents were not at home. I was in my last year of university and my country was going through political and social changes. In one year we were going to have primary elections and presidential elections. I got an offer to start working in the communication department of the campaign for the opposition. I did not know what to do. I needed advice. I called my aunt. I told her I still had courses at the university and I had to write my thesis and I was not sure it was a good idea to take the job. She told me I had to take it – she said it was a wonderful opportunity to earn experience. She gave me the confidence to take the challenge. I accepted and what at the beginning was going to be a short period work ended up being a one-and-a-half year job. We had two presidential elections in less than two years and one regional election. I learned about myself, about my priorities in life. I traveled throughout Venezuela and saw realities I was only aware of the newspapers or television. That changed my life and made me take further decisions such as pursuing my studies abroad.

My aunt died before I left Venezuela. Her mom – my grandmother – was at her side by the moment she left us. A few hours later my grandmother’s Alzheimer was taking revenge and did not allow her to remember my aunt was not alive anymore. I saw for the first time how the mind could vanish our memories. I experienced first hand the beauty of loss. The absence she left filled our lives. The idea of not having my aunt around made me believe she was always there. Without knowing it she became my role model. Her life and her death defined in a certain way who I am now. How I changed my concept of beauty, not seeing it only in what surrounds me but also in what is not there anymore. I started cherishing even more the blurry line between the sky and the sea that is so normal for people who live in the coast but that even today it takes my breath away. El Avila became that symbol of stillness, of peace. The picture I tend to imagine in my head when I feel sad, or weak.

Beauty, long defined, is that special ingredient that makes an experience, moment, and story worth to remember, to cherish, and to relive in our minds. Beauty is what triggers our soul and mind to be hopeful, to be creative, to be conscious, to be humans, to love and be loved. Beauty is a continuing present; a never-ending feeling that makes us believe in the magic of life.

 

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