My first Christmas gift this year was from Mike, who bought me a ticket to see “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” at the Orpheum in Minneapolis. I have loved the title song since King’s “Tapestry” album was released in the early ’70s. It might have been the very first example in my conscious experience of what is now called “setting positive intent”:
You’ve got to get up every morning with a smile on your face
And show the world all the love in your heart
Then people gonna treat you better
You’re gonna find, yes, you will
That you’re beautiful as you feel.
Throughout my life, I’ve gone back to this song as a reminder that how I experience my day and the many interactions that take place is, to a large extent, dependent on my own approach and perspective. When I’ve fought through depressive episodes, when I’ve felt lonely, when I’ve been new and unfamiliar with my surroundings, I have often found this song on the tip of my tongue.
I remember one particular day in January 2014. In Minneapolis, we had been in the grip of the Polar Vortex for weeks. The actual temperature outside was -19 (and it didn’t feel much warmer in my frigid apartment). I was poor, underemployed, lonely in my first winter in a new city. I bundled up in my giant oversized parka, hood up with its fur trim cinched tight around my face. I felt like I was looking out at the world through a fuzzy tunnel. Scarf, light gloves inside heavy mittens, wool socks and plastic bags inside my boots – it was like girding myself with armor every time I left home. Glancing in the mirror before leaving, I thought I looked only vaguely humanoid.
As I walked the few blocks into downtown Minneapolis, I saw almost no one else on the sidewalks. The weather was “not fit for man nor beast” – except the occasional urban yeti, like me. In that low moment, as I walked simply because it was the only thing I could think of to do, I approached the light rail station on 3rd Avenue. There were a couple of miserably cold people waiting for the train, and I found myself quietly singing, “Waiting at the station with a workday wind a-blowing…”. Then I realized that literally no one could hear me anyway and, for the first time in my life, I decided to belt out a song in public – no music, no other voices, just me – the singing Sasquatch.
Crazy as it sounds, that made all the difference. By the time I turned back toward my own neighborhood, things didn’t look so bad. I stopped at the coffee shop, smiling at the other patrons as I peeled layer after layer of outerwear off and piled it on a table. Michael, the owner, asked if I’d like my usual. I said yes, then made my way to the restroom (where I peeled several more layers). I stopped at the sink to wash my hands and glanced into the mirror as I reached for the soap dispenser. My hair was full of static electricity and stood out from my head in a penumbra of excited strands. My cheeks were bright red, my eyes sparkled, and I was smiling. In that moment I felt two things: beautiful and happy.
Lately, since seeing the Carole King musical, the song has been on my mind frequently. It is often my mantra as I go about my days in the difficult first year of a demanding new job. Then, the other day, I happened to watch a video making the rounds on Facebook (below), in which a high school student asks others if she can film them. While the camera captures their reactions, she tells them her project is taking images of things she finds beautiful.
Each face transforms when the subject realizes that he or she has just been called beautiful. In that moment, each of those individuals does – in fact – become beautiful. Objectively, their features haven’t really changed – they have the same lips, the same nose, same skin tone, they are the same weight. But their energy has changed. And that makes all the difference.
It got me thinking about the fact that it is really good to hear from others that they find you beautiful – to hear them compliment not only your appearance, but your beautiful qualities, skills, unique gifts. I should do that more often for the people around me whose actions, presence and care make each day and our world a bit better, more bearable.
More important, though, it reminds me that I can create a mindset of positive energy for myself, rather than wait for someone else to call it forth. When I make the effort to do this, I radiate that positive energy outward – something desperately needed in our world right now. And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.