Gazing at the sky with a look of wonder, my dad pronounced, “That’s the most beautiful jet trail I’ve ever seen.”
I nodded. “It is. I’ve never seen one quite like it.”
With a reverential tone that others might reserve for looking at the Mona Lisa or Michaelangelo’s David, my dad agreed. “Yes. We’ll never see one this good again.”
* * * * *
What stops you in your tracks with its beauty?
For me, it’s usually something big and special. An RC Gorman painting. A sunset with an extraordinarily red sun and vibrantly colored clouds. A church soloist who nails every note, sings with expression, and touches something deep inside me.
My dad was different, at least once dementia took hold.
He spotted beauty nearly everywhere he looked, and I saw it too as I observed the world through his dementia-affected perspective.
Jet trails were the most common example. He stopped and feasted his eyes on the white, puffy trail every single time he saw one, always declaring the current version the most beautiful ever.
We lived in Atlanta, then home to the world’s busiest airport. We saw lots and lots of jet trails.
But somehow, in the early and middle stages of dementia, my dad noticed each one as its own phenomenon. And he appreciated each one for everything it was to him.
I never knew why jet trails attracted him so.
Is it because he’d desperately wanted to be a pilot — so much that he even memorized an eye chart for his Air Force recruiting physical in hopes of passing despite profound nearsightedness? (The doctor caught on immediately, by the way. The closest my dad ever got to a cockpit was sitting in the first row on a passenger jet.)
Is it because my mom, without whom my dad never quite felt complete, always imagined being an angel and getting to create clouds (or maybe jet trails?) with a sweep of her arm? Maybe he liked to imagine, or even to believe, that this was one of her creations, a sign of their enduring connection even after her death.
I never knew.
I only knew that, for whatever reason, a jet trail always left my dad awestruck. Even when he could no longer speak, he’d stare at the sky watching for a jet trail. And he’d try to point, always wanting to share the experience of beauty.
* * * * *
I’d love to tell you that I had a jet-trail epiphany. To tell you about the moment that I realized that my dad’s sense of wonder was part of my legacy. To describe the many ways I learned to seek out beauty, my new habit of pausing — no matter what — to relish the sight or the sound. How I no longer need grand shows of beauty to capture my attention, since daily beauty keeps me enthralled. The conclusion that my dad’s enjoyment of common beauty changed my life into one replete with enjoyment of the little things.
But this is nonfiction.
And so I have to admit that I far too often skip past the vibrantly yellow flower growing in the sidewalk crack. I fail to feel adequate appreciation for the stars I see twinkling in Wyoming’s deep blue sky.
It’s too easy for me to hurry past everyday beauty, my mind on my to-do list or replaying that conversation and what I should have said.
Convicted. When I realize how much beauty I overlook, I feel convicted.
Every time I look to the sky and see a jet trail cutting across the blue, I pause.
Because every time, it’s the most beautiful jet trail I’ve ever seen.