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A Legacy of Beauty

In a world fraught with violence and destruction, we need more than ever... beauty. Of course beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. How can we pass forward to future generations what we perceive and experience as beautiful?
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In a world fraught with violence and destruction, we need more than ever... beauty. Of course beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. How can we pass forward to future generations what we perceive and experience as beautiful? Why is it an important value? What sensations and spiritual connections do we derive from beauty? Big questions, as we tackle this month's "Tips & Tools" topic.

Beauty is an appropriate topic for December, in a month when we journey toward the year's darkest day. In some parts of the country we're reminded of beauty by its loss; the colors of autumn are gone and we're left with more dark than light. It's no wonder that we celebrate the holidays of December by embracing light. We decorate our homes, inside and out -- candles twinkle and reflect -- as we do our best to celebrate and bring beauty amidst so much darkness.

"The day beauty divorced meaning... The sun went down and all it was, was night." -- Leslie Harrison

Why beauty? An inspiration as I read Steve Jobs' sister's eulogy printed in the New York Times, Oct. 30, 2011. When she told him in 1985 that she was thinking of buying a computer, he suggested she wait because he was making something "insanely beautiful." She continued, "Novelty was not Steve's highest value. Beauty was."

Where did my appreciation of beauty come from? My mother expressed her love of beauty domestically and femininely by the way she set a table, decorated her home, her personal grooming, and her style in dress. Her joy from flowers, colors, textures, fabrics, design, and shoes was a legacy to me. Though she died 30 years ago, I remember her when I open to beauty in our world: in nature, in things, and in people.

At a commencement address Steve Jobs gave at Stanford University in 2005, he told a story about taking a calligraphy class at Reed College, where he'd been moved by the "beautifully hand calligraphed" posters and drawer labels on campus. He knew it had no practical application, but he was fascinated because of its "beautiful, historical, artistic subtlety." Later when the first Macintosh computer was being designed, it all came back to him. "We designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography... multiple typefaces, proportionally spaced fonts."

Being a Mac lover from my first Apple, the 2E, I understood what had attracted me, and I've loved the elegance of every Mac I've owned. (I've named each hard drive "Aphrodite" for the goddess of love and beauty. My current Mac is Aphrodite X.) I also appreciate the sleek elegance of my iPhone and my new iPad 2. As well as accessible and efficient, they are beautiful!

In that 2005 commencement address, Jobs spoke of legacy as he shared his cancer diagnosis from the previous year:

"My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes."

This month, let us bring more light to the dark; let us tell our kids and grandkids, and anyone who'll listen how important beauty is and ways it has enriched our lives.

Some Suggestions for Action:

1. Begin by reflecting about the experiences and things that make your heart sing with their beauty. Journal in a free-flowing style about beauty for 10-20 minutes for as many days as you enjoy describing all that's beautiful in your life and in the larger world.

"People often say that 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder,' and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing that you are the beholder. This empowers us to find beauty in places where others have not dared to look, including inside ourselves." -- Salma Hayek

2. If you learned about beauty from an ancestor, remember at least one specific story about beauty that you shared when you were young. This may be one of your legacy letters that also links generations coming after you to generations that have come before, so you may include a story about beauty you shared with an ancestor.

3. Choose a recipient(s) for a legacy letter focused on the value of beauty. Think about what you want to pass forward to them about the importance of beauty (why you value it) and share specifically ways it has enhanced your life.

4. Craft a beauty blessing to conclude your letter.

5. Reflective notes: When you've finished with your letter, and writing about your experience of thinking and writing about beauty, consider making a commitment to recognize, acknowledge, and appreciate the beauty you are blessed with in your everyday life and the gloriously beautiful planet we inhabit.

"May you find beauty in unexpected places, and pass it on to all your loved ones." -- Rachel Freed

You can find out more about communicating and preserving your legacy (ethical will) at or through e-mail,

Rachael Freed has published several works including "Women's Lives, Women's Legacies, Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations" and "Heartmates: A Guide for the Spouse and Family of the Heart Patient." She is currently working on "Harvesting the Wisdom of Our Lives: An Intergenerational Legacy Guide for Seniors and Their Families." Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, Rachael is a clinical social worker, adult educator and legacy consultant. Her home is Minneapolis, Minnesota. For more information, visit and