It harbors beauty

An artist captures a bit of the beauty hidden away in the past. Mission San Juan Capistrano, California, July 2004

An artist captures a bit of the beauty hidden away in the past.
Mission San Juan Capistrano, California, July 2004

“History should be studied because it is essential to society, and because it harbors beauty.”Peter N. Stearns

Leaving aside for a moment the arguments that might arise from Stearns’ assertion that history is essential to society (I’m one who agrees that it is), I think most everyone will admit that history indeed harbors great beauty. Cynics might point out that it also contains vast areas of ugliness, perhaps far more pervasive than the beauty, at least in some eras. But is loveliness not more remarkable and arresting when it springs up amid great squalor?

The word “history” often conjures up a high school image of the topic, fraught with memorized dates and wars and disasters and genocide. But there is so much more to it, tucked away in between the markers on whatever timeline we happen to be studying. We are fortunate that the internet makes so many documents accessible to us. It’s a gold mine of diaries, letters, speeches and photographs that reveal details as rich, complex and countless as would be expected of the composite story of millions of unique individuals unfolding over hundreds and thousands of years.

If you seek beauty and inspiration in history, you will not have to look far. Along the way, you are also likely to discover humor and intrigue. You can begin at Storycorps, or at literally thousands of other websites and blogs filled with fascinating glimpses into lives from almost any era. Are there any time periods to which you are especially drawn?

It isn’t only global history that harbors beauty. Your own history also contains a labyrinth of remembered and forgotten moments of joy, wisdom and delight. Have you visited your own past lately? If not, perhaps you may find it fun or therapeutic to set aside a short time– perhaps 30 minutes or even less– to sort through old photos, read saved correspondence, or just daydream about a very pleasant or memorable stop on your journey through life. Feel free to share a special memory here.


  1. I just “came down from” the Appalachian trail. In my condition, I am embarrassed that I had to step aside more times than I could count to let hikers thirty and forty years my junior pass by (seeming to be fairly skipping!) Nevertheless, in your reply to the second comment to the blog of September 1st you mentioned “perspective”, and I began to feel that most at mile-high Carvers Gap.

    Now you write of “history”.

    One has only to look at the upheaval among the citizenry of the western part of the state of Virginia, in the middle decade of the nineteenth century, to realize that our current political unrest pales in comparison to these tragic folk. To see vitriolic rhetoric result in widespread and massive bloodshed is almost unimaginable. Now, we have the pastoral state of West Virginia (btw here, the best portion of the A.P. lies near the town of Pearisburg, just across the Virginia border.) Oh! what a price was paid at the birth of this “new” state!

    Hope with me, that everyone will not only come to see beauty in history, but will heed the ominous warning of George Santayana.

    • Eric, I think it’s great that you were able to walk the trail at all. I’ve never done much of that sort of hiking, though I’d like to think I am still able to do it. Hope those folks speeding along past you remembered to stop now and then to take in the beauty. Yes, however bad we think things are now, they used to be much, much worse, throughout most of history in most of the world. Even today there are horrors beyond our imagining taking place in some regions. So we have many blessings for which to be thankful. I do hope with you that we all remember the legacy of strength and sorrow that will help us make wiser choices and live more happily than our ancestors did.

      • RE: “Able” – My cardio-vascular surgeon, Dr. Robert Guyton, of Emory University has recently given me very encouraging news.

        • 🙂 🙂 🙂

  2. Good morning, Julia!
    Some mornings, you blog makes me think of so many things at once that is difficult to curb my comments ….
    1. I’ve been to San Juan Capistrano, too! A realtor took me after I’d had an interview with a company in Irvine. I was disappointed about not landing that position, but I must admit, rent sure is expensive there.
    2. I’ve been counting old photos this weekend, to send out for conversion to digital. Very fun to go through, and I have to write down the count at intervals so that I don’t have to start all over each time I get distracted by memories.
    3. My dad is coming to visit in a couple of weeks, and I plan to get out the slide projector and slides from my childhood that he sent me ‘way back when my (now adult children) were first born. That will be fun, too. (Dad taught me how to take photos, and he took a good many himself, despite costs of developing the film. He liked slides, best, so viewing is a group event).
    Love to you!

    • Isn’t Capistrano lovely? We visited more than half the missions of California during our nearly 9 years of living there, and each has its own special beauty, but I think Capistrano might be my favorite.

      That conversion process is a labor of love that can eat up as much time as we give it. It’s like following Alice down the rabbit hole; so many memories to distract us along the way– “curiouser and curiouser” as she might say. Our Daddy was a fan of slides, too. I think many purists were in those days (not that he was one, as the first several year of making slides he used a Kodak Instamatic) because with a slide, you are looking directly at the image itself, instead of a negative transposition to paper. I liked them because they were much cheaper than photographs, at least in the very early years before there were so many competitors in the print business. And I liked that they could be shown on a screen so everyone could see them at once, as you mention– a group event. My old carousel projector quit advancing the trays so I have to manually advance them now. Eventually I will do away with it altogether since I doubt anyone could repair them now. Let me know if you want some more carousel trays. 😀

      How wonderful that you will treat your father to a trip down memory lane. I hope you both enjoy it tremendously. Giant photographic hugs and lots of love coming your way!

  3. Gorgeous photo. Good post to think over–I suspect you could lengthen that one by a few hundred words, at least! 🙂

    • Cynthia, it’s a relief to read that, as I tend to be WAY too wordy. I fit Alice Flaherty’s description of hypergraphia pretty well! If you haven’t yet read the book, I do recommend it. I think it would be of interest to anyone who writes, wants to write, or appreciates the literary work of others.

  4. Thought provoking and very true post, Julia.
    Progressives and modernists believe in the future and that their is no value in past tradition. Unfortunately, while on that road of progress, too, often we leave the best of who we are behind.

    • Alan, I agree. Not only is single-minded obsession with the future a risky stance, it’s also quite ungrateful. We owe so much to our ancestors who faced much harder times than we can imagine. To own our past, honor the good and resolve to learn from the bad rather than repeat it, is essential to understanding who we are and how we got here, and it’s a huge dose of much-needed perspective when we get arrogant in all our “progress.”

  5. Sheila

    Julia, we spent hours looking through family photographs, letters, albums, recognitions, and mementos this last weekend that we were together in Bristol. We were able to pick and choose items of interest, many to share with our children upon returning home. It can be overwhelming, at best. I’m excited for our immediate family to have a ” history night of memories” and enjoy looking at these treasures! I’m so happy that your blog was so timely with what we were doing! Garden City has never looked better than it did last night upon our return, with memories! 💛

    • WOW, what an emotional time that must have been. Yes, perfect timing on the blog theme. You found lots of beauty to celebrate. AND how wonderful to return to HOME SWEET HOME — I know that feeling well! ❤

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