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Most Beautiful?

Mom and I went to see Venus yesterday afternoon, a rather crass movie in which an old stage actor Maurice (Peter O’Toole) has a discussion about beauty with the young object of his lust, Jessie. In trying to justify or at least soften his leachery, Maurice explains to Jessie that the site of the unclothed female form is, to most men, the most beautiful thing they will ever see.

“What’s the most beautiful thing for women?” Jessie asks.

“The site of their first child,” Maurice answers.

I’ve been thinking about this line ever since. Part of me was annoyed by it, as it seemed like a cheap cliche–the sort beautification of motherhood that isolates or insults those who choose to not have children, a group that included me until not very long ago. Another part of me was struck by the question and immediately debated its truth in my experience. Is Simon really the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen?

I can think of a handful of times in my life when something I saw or heard so overwhelmed me with its beauty that I teared up. I remember feeling comtemplative and plainly stunned when I first saw Venice. It was twilight, the street-lights cast an amethyst glaze in the city and the water, and I was astounded at how beautiful a city could be. I had similar experiences when visiting Cyprus, Israel, and Oxford. In all cases, the temporal nature of my experience added to its impact. It wasn’t just the thing itself that was so beautiful, but also the fleeting nature of the moment in which I experienced it.

I also teared up the first time I saw Hiroshige’s “Kambara Night Snow”, a woodblock print that depicts a single figure in a snowy nightime landscape. The place (Japan) and the time (nineteenth century) are foreign to me, but the beauty of the landscape and loneliness of the central figure seem universal. I saw this at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and had a hard time walking away from it. I also had a hard time hiding the fact that I was crying in public. I think I must have looked a bit mad.

So do I really think Simon is more beautiful than any of these? I understand that others wouldn’t, but I think I honestly do. I have images of these other scenes clearly imprinted in my brain, but I’m not obsessed with them the same way I am with Simon. It’s not just that I love looking at Simon–it’s that I literally have a hard time taking my eyes off of him. In a crowd, my eyes follow him. When he’s asleep, I often look at pictures at him. Every now and then I even tip-toe into the nursery to get a final peek at his sleeping features before turning in myself.

I’m not sure if this is common or healthy, but it’s true. It also surprises me. I expected motherhood to be an emotionally and physically overhwhelming experience. I did not expect it to be a profoundly aethetic experience as well. I also wonder how long at will last. Because frankly–and perhaps unkindly–its difficult to imagine feeling this way when Simon is a pimply, sweaty teen. So maybe the fleeting nature of babyhood is what adds to this perception as well. I also note that Maurice did not include subsequent children in his assessment, a fact that offends me on behalf of all third-borns.

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