‘Beauty draws the human heart and can help ennoble or tear down,” Ashley Crouch, an editor at a new magazine called Verily, tells me.
I thought of her comment as I heard the story of a 94-year-old woman in Moore, Okla., who in the recent tornado lost her home for the second time; the first time was in 1999. She found a stack of $100 bills that survived the storm and, instead of weep for what she had lost, handed them out to others who stood in the debris that was once their neighborhood. She had lost much, but she gave what she had.
As I watched Anderson Cooper put his hand on the shoulder of a father in Oklahoma who had just lost his two daughters — one was about to turn five; the other, seven months old, was ripped from his wife’s arms by the storm — I realized that the man was ministering to us, the rest of the country, who were nowhere near the tornado.
Part of the reason we rush to watch scenes of devastation on live television is that we long for hope and purpose. We need to know how people begin again when the storm runs out of rain. What is it that gives people in Haiti to rejoice when they have lost what seems like everything? Hope. Gratitude. Faith in a destination so much greater than what we can see around us, so much more beautiful than the most radiant gem you can conjure up.
Jenny Hubbard is “at complete peace,” she says. She is one of the parents who lost a child in the shooting in Newtown, Conn., just before Christmas. “I knew the moment I arrived at the firehouse on the morning of December 14 that Catherine was in heaven,” she has said. She lost her beautiful redheaded daughter, but she chooses to honor the gift that was her child’s life by continuing to love in gratitude for that gift. Reflecting in an Easter interview with a local reporter, she acknowledged that some people think she is in denial. But she knows exactly what happened. “I choose not to dwell on” the horror and loss of that day, she says. “Because to do that allows the Devil to win. God didn’t do this. The Devil did and he thought we would crumble. But the Devil was wrong. It has made us stronger physically and spiritually — as people, as families, as a town.”
Moving down the Eastern seaboard: “Is this seat taken?” I ask as I rush onto an Amtrak train in New York. “It’s free. But you’ll have to put up with me. I’m not contagious, but you’ll get tired of this.” The Vietnam vet apologized in advance, in his chest and neck braces, between coughs. “I gave up smoking way too late,” he says.
Around Philadelphia, as it happened, I was furiously grasping for Wi-Fi as a jury there was about to announce the verdict in the horrific case of late-term-abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell. Over the course of the trial, it had become increasingly evident that late-term abortions themselves are gruesome business, in which doctors, who are supposed to preserve, protect, and promote life, understand their job to be to deliver to a woman a dead baby, even in top-notch clean clinics, sometimes by letting the child die after birth. Next to me, as I wrote about the verdict and commissioned other writers to write about it for National Review Online, there was Jim, savoring every minute of his ride, of his life. He was on the way to Richmond to care for his mother, who was undergoing hip surgery and needed a hand. His kids have all stopped smoking, he tells me, and medicine has “blessed” him, enabling him to live long enough to get to know his grandkids. Between coughs, he declares himself as fortunate as they come: He’s been married for decades to a woman who loves him, he says, more than he deserves. “God has blessed me,” he continues. “And he still does. I wish I had taken better care of myself. But if this dang cough can help others appreciate their good health and take better care of themselves, I’m grateful for the opportunity.”
“The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open,” Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical on hope, Spe Salvi. “The Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known — it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. . . . The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.”
Which brings me back to Verily, the women’s magazine we’ve been waiting for. The June–July issue is its first. It has the simple, the material, the inspirational. It seeks to remind women that they have an inherent beauty and to help them celebrate that, enjoy it, and share it. It helps raise expectations. “We want to bring beauty into this world by showing representations that uplift the whole person,” Ashley Crouch tells me. “We hope to create a more positive culture in which women feel safer in their own bodies and allowed to thrive as the beautiful, multidimensional people they are.”
“Let us be like the lark, enemy of the night, who always announces the dawn and awakens in each creature the love of light and life,” the French mystic Elisabeth Leseur wrote about a hundred years ago. Witnesses to hope, in tragedy and in the simplicities and complexities of everyday life, affirm her observation even today. Verily reminds women that they are gifts. When we see our lives as gifts, in all life’s challenges and heartaches, we hold doors open for one another, we say thank you, we live in ways different from what much that is miserable in our culture would seem to dictate. We curse the darkness by living life with love.