04 Nov Beauty as a Dove and Olive Branch
A DARK BLUE BANNER the color of the deep sea hangs in my room with a white dove holding an olive branch between its beak. Underneath the dove and olive branch are the words BE COOL.
In the Roman poet Virgil’s epic, The Aeneid, the main character Aeneas uses the olive branch as a symbol of peace:
High on the stern Aeneas his stand,
And held a branch of olive in his hand,
While thus he spoke: ‘The Phrygians’ arms you see,
Expelled from Troy, provoked in Italy
By Latian foes, with war unjustly made;
At first affianced, and at last betrayed.
This message bear: The Trojans and their chief
Bring holy peace, and beg the king’s relief.
Before the United States officially declared independence from Great Britain, the colonies sent King George III one final attempt at reconciliation with the Olive Branch Petition. It didn’t go over well.
The olive branch and dove impart a reconciliation between two parties, two armies, two people, two souls.
To me, the symbol captured in the dark blue and white frame signifies something more — a part of me I carry through every stage of life; a facet of my character and who I hope to be.
When I see the banner hanging in my room, my heart returns to love, and my mind relaxes. I take a deep breath.
I’m home, where I feel like me, where I look around and find joy, love and beauty in the things I have.
The banner is one of my favorite things I own. I recently discovered where the symbol comes from, at least, one of its ancient sources.
After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. (Genesis 8:6)
Noah then sends a dove; it comes back without finding earth to perch upon. After seven days, Noah sends the dove again, and it comes back with an olive leaf within its beak.
When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him. (Genesis 8:11)
This shows Noah that the lower land has dried where olive branches grow. The return of the dove with the olive branch represents peace between humankind and God.
I see this moment as peace between human beings and others, between human beings and the source of all creation, between human beings and ourselves.
God punishes the earth with the flood; yet this simple gesture of a bird with a plant in its grasp signifies harmony between humanity and what is truly good.
Maybe that’s what is beautiful about the message — no matter how dark things can seem or how badly we falter, now matter how off-course we stray, we can always choose to return to beauty, peace, and love.
I’ve had the Be COOl flag hanging above me for years without knowing the story comes from the Bible. Like a dream catcher, it watches over me. Maybe it’s made me who I am.
As an aspiring student of all religions, I see this as an ancient and beautiful story that still carries relevance. When I walk in my room and I see the flag, I feel a connection to something beyond myself, something archaic and telling of the human soul.
That genuinely makes me happy.
Our space, be it a studio apartment or a bedroom or a bunk on a train should be a place which inspires us and fills us with light. Our space should be beautiful, if only to us.
“Making something beautiful is difficult, but it is amazingly worthwhile,” writes renowned psychologist and author Jordan Peterson in his book Beyond Order.
If you learn to make something in your life truly beautiful — even one thing — then you have established a relationship with beauty. From there you can begin to expand that relationship out into other elements of your life and the world. That is an invitation to the divine. That is the reconnection with the immortality of childhood, and the true beauty and majesty of the Being you can no longer see. You must be daring to try that.
How are you cultivating beauty in your life?
So you haven’t taken up the paintbrush or the camera or put your hands to the test with pottery (which I haven’t).
While perhaps we should, because hell, it’s fun, what’s more important is how we perceive the world.
I can’t always be at ease and doing what I love— you can’t be shooting hoops or singing or writing code every hour of the day, things which we consider beautiful and enriching to our lives.
But in the moments we don’t choose, we can choose to see them differently.
This planet is a magical place.
It’s full of mystery and color and light in the most peculiar of places. But we have to be willing to look up when others look down. We must be willing to create when others expect.
We must dare to cultivate beauty with every step we take, for without beauty, life becomes dull, mundane, and far too short. The 19th-century transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau writes in his Natural History Essays:
It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.
I began this story with the history of the dove and olive branch, because on my wall hangs a symbol far more beautiful than I’d ever realized.
But what really is beauty, anyway?
Impossible to describe, only possible to feel.
When I walk in my room, my energy shifts. I see the world through a creative lens and ask my heart to speak. I let go of worry, and find peace in who I am. The banner inspires me.
It causes the sun to shine brighter, the rain to fall harder, and the world to seem fresher. It causes me to ask what we’re doing here at all.
It causes me to see the world, my self, and every single soul, as beautiful.