"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 lost her home to the recent tornado that swept through the town and leveled an elementary school. Instead of weep for what she had lost, she found a stack of $100 bills that survived the storm and started handing them out to others who stood in the debris that was once their neighborhood. She had lost, but she gave what she had.
Part of our rush to watch scenes of devastation on live television has to do with our longing for hope and purpose. We need to know how people begin again when the storm stops. What is it that gives people in Haiti who lose what seems like everything the fortitude to keep going, even rejoice? Hope. Gratitude. Faith.
Jenny Hubbard is "at complete peace," she says. She is one of the parents who lost a child in the horrific shooting in Newtown, Conn. just before Christmas.
"I knew the moment I arrived at the firehouse on the morning of Dec. 14 that Catherine was in heaven," she has said. She lost her beautiful redheaded daughter, but she chooses to honor the gift of her daughter's life by continuing to love in gratitude for that gift. In an Easter interview with a local reporter, she said that there are people who think that she is in denial. But she knows exactly what happened. "I choose not to dwell on that," 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."
Recently, on a train near Philadelphia, I was furiously searching for Wi-Fi as a jury there was about to announce the verdict in the ghastly case of late-term abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell. During the course of the trial, it became increasingly evident that late-term abortions themselves are a gruesome business.
Next to me, as I wrote and commissioned other writers to react to the verdict on National Review's website, there was Jim, a Vietnam vet with what he told me were smoking-related disabilities, savoring every minute. He was on the way to Richmond to care for his mother, who was undergoing hip surgery and needed a hand. For his part, he told me his kids had all stopped smoking, and medicine has blessed him with keeping him around so far to get to know his grandkids.
Between coughs, he declared himself as fortunate as they come: He's been married for decades to a woman who loves him more than, he says, he deserves. "God has blessed me," said Jim. "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."
"Pope Benedict XVI wrote: "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 new women's magazine. Its inspirational first issue, on stands now, seeks to remind women that they have an inherent beauty, to help them celebrate, enjoy and share it. It helps raise expectations.
"We want to bring beauty into this world by showing representations that uplift the whole person," editor Crouch tells me. "We hope to create a more positive culture in which women feel safer in their own bodies and are allowed to thrive as the beautiful, multi-dimensional 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," Elisabeth Leseur wrote around the turn of the last century. Beacons of hope, in tragedy and in everyday life, do this. When we see our life as a gift, with all its challenges and heartaches, we hold doors open for one another, we say thank you, we live differently than the darker aspects of our culture would seem to dictate. We curse the darkness by living life with love.