Ugly Beautiful

by Steve Brock on October 12, 2011

Loss, as represented by these New England tombstones, can seem cold and distant, but an up-close perspective reveals something far more personal.

We travel for pleasure. We travel for work. And sometimes, we travel for others on journeys we would prefer not to take but that we know we must.

My nephew died last week in a car accident.

He was 26.  He lived in Connecticut.

My brother, his father, lives in Florida. My parents and I live in the state of Washington.  And so, within days of the loss of a son, a grandson and a nephew, the four of us sat together in a funeral home in a small town in Connecticut mourning a life cut short.

The dynamics of death are as unpredictable as the event itself. What you say, how what others say affects you, how grief works itself out in a group of caring people who all had different relationships and experiences with the departed, all of this seems both familiar and yet foreign at the same time.

It feels a bit like traveling to a place that looks exactly like home, but where everyone speaks another language. Where a nod means one thing to one person, something else to another and yet you all understand…but in different ways.

Amidst the comfort and disorientation of shared loss I found something utterly profound, something I could not fathom unless I had been there.

As I both beheld and participated in the scene, I witnessed faces contorted by pain, scrunched up and clenched in expressions of such raw, undiminished grief that they lost the semblance to the person who bore them. Those faces became hideous.


And incredibly beautiful.


Many things have I known from the words of others.

  • No parent should ever outlive his or her child.
  • The purpose of a funeral is not for the one who died, but for those who survive, who must go on in the absence of the loved one.
  • We are created for community, in life and in death.

I have known these as concepts, descriptions from someone else’s journey. But by traveling to a place I would not choose to go for a reason I would never want, I have known them now in the same way that I am known; they are my own.

And on this unwanted trip, I have seen a beauty that can only be found in the midst of deep loss and suffering, amidst something horrific and ugly.

Like the Cross.

Like life itself.

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The sufficiency of beauty

by Steve Brock on May 17, 2011

As I fumbled to answer the question, “How was your trip?” upon returning from Peru last month, one of my immediate answers was simply, “It was beautiful.”

I’m not alone in this sentiment.

Go back almost 600 years to when the Spanish Conquistadors first laid their greedy eyes on the Incan capital of Cuzco, and you will read reports of how they were stunned by the beauty of the place. Whether the gold-covered Temple of the Sun or the massive stonework of the fortress Sacsayhuaman, these first foreigners marveled at the architecture and craftsmanship that rivaled any in Europe at the time.

I had read of the mastery of Incan stonework before I left for Peru. So it came as no surprise to find huge stones fitted together with no mortar and no gaps. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was the solemn beauty of these stones.

I found that being there completely changed my perspective on something as seemingly ordinary as carved rocks. These stones, shaped and fitted by means that still baffle archeologists today, have an appeal that pictures cannot capture.

The puzzle-piece-like joint lines, irregular yet aesthetically pleasing shapes and the texture of the surfaces create more than a functional wall or door way. You perceive a rhythm to these stones, an intriguing sensuality in the curved exterior faces or rounded corners. In them I found an unexpected beauty.

Note the green fields beneath and the Andes in the distance

I figured Machu Picchu would be gorgeous – and it was – but I didn’t expect the country itself to be so lovely. All the photos I’d seen of the Sacred Valley were taken during the prime tourist season from June through August which happens to be winter, the dry season, in Peru. Thus, the images I’d seen reflected hillsides in various shades of brown and tan.

When we arrived in early April, however, the entire countryside was a rage of green. The mountains – many layered with ancient Incan terraces – the valleys and everywhere in between formed a non-stop panorama of lush beauty.  

I can’t explain beauty or its impact on me and others. I can give examples and go into long discourses on the subjective nature of it or how culture shapes our perceptions of it. But I don’t need to do that or really, even understand beauty intellectually. I can simply appreciate a place like the Sacred Valley and be thankful for the impact such beauty has on me.

A place of beauty...the ruins at Pisac, Peru

Thus, when I answer the question of “How was your trip?” by saying, “It was beautiful,” those three words contain much more than such brevity of language might imply. They may not answer the question adequately to others. They might not capture the fullness of my trip. They might not even make sense to anyone else.

But for me, they are enough. Beauty itself is sufficient and exceeds any words I could ever use to describe it.

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The many faces of beauty

by Steve Brock on October 1, 2010

In the previous entry, I noted how fishing provides a great excuse to be in a beautiful location. Here are three additional photos from a trip to McCall, Idaho last year. They reveal that even the same area, in this case a stretch of the Payette River maybe 500 feet from one end to the other, can look very different as you move up or downstream.

The same thing applies to travel in general: a slight change of location can dramatically affect your perspective.

Fishing pool

Arrival early morning: Despite the dead trees from a fire a decade earlier, the river here proved to be a beautiful location and a great fishing hole.

Lily pads on a fishing river

Mid-morning: Moving upstream a few hundred feet reveals a different scene - and actually better fishing.

Grandfather and grandson eating lunch by a river

Lunch time: A few hundred feet downstream from our original location and the river looks very different, though the attention of my dad and son seems to be more on their lunch than on the surroundings.

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Meaningful Fishing

by Steve Brock September 28, 2010

How does fishing relate to meaninful travel? Both get you to distant places, often ones of great beauty, where you anticipate, discover and pay better attention. And sometimes you even catch a fish.

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