John Everett Millais, Ophelia, c. 1851, oil on canvas, Tate Britain, London
When we encounter things or people that remind us that the world is still a haven for evil and ugliness, that it bears the smudge of evils of the past and the stink of evil’s portents, we often see beauty peeking out around the corner. The violet poking up through a battered sidewalk, or the woman with the cold heart and icy stare who is jarringly pretty, or the elegant old buildings built by slaves, or the enchanting music that comes in the declining years of a musical genre, or a love affair gone terribly wrong which nonetheless grants the loveliest of memories— what does it say, this beauty that keeps popping up where it shouldn’t be, this beauty that draws our eyes to evil, injustice, loss, and death?
It says, “I am here. I was there. I will be there. I don’t reject this, so please, don’t reject it. Have compassion, and insofar as you are able, open your heart and offer yourself to the pain you see here.”