Nonessential Employees and Transactions with Beauty

Lovers find secret places inside this vio­lent world
where they make trans­ac­tions with beau­ty.
~ Rumi

I was recent­ly clean­ing out my desk draw­ers when I came across the let­ter I received in March 2020 from Frankfort polite­ly ask­ing me to shut down my busi­ness while the COVID-19 state of emer­gency raged, as I was con­sid­ered a nonessen­tial employee. 

Nonessential employ­ees are those who per­form work that’s not con­sid­ered nec­es­sary dur­ing a state of emer­gency such as COVID-19. The let­ter includ­ed a long list of careers con­sid­ered nonessen­tial, includ­ing florists, musi­cians, hair styl­ists, video­g­ra­phers, chefs, painters, librar­i­ans, copy­ed­i­tors, graph­ic design­ers, schol­ars, fit­ness instruc­tors, actors, pas­tors, pod­cast­ers, and land­scap­ers. The duties of these employ­ees don’t sup­port health and safe­ty infra­struc­ture dur­ing emer­gen­cies and, as such, aren’t required to main­tain pub­lic health.

I couldn’t dis­agree more. I would argue these employ­ees – these artists, these design­ers of trans­ac­tion­al beau­ty – are incred­i­bly essen­tial, at least to a life of mean­ing and pur­pose. In fact, I would go so far as to sug­gest one of the rea­sons we all cur­rent­ly feel so exis­ten­tial­ly dis­con­nect­ed is that we spent the last sev­er­al years in a beau­ty drought, both in out­put and con­sump­tion. While cog­ni­tive­ly I under­stand that those who cre­ate – or gate­keep the cre­at­ed, like librar­i­ans and teach­ers –  might not actu­al­ly save lives, I also believe they … might just save lives. 

Creativity. Art. Beauty. Mystery. Wonder. Magic. Whatever you call it, know it’s your birthright. We are designed to seek, to ask, to won­der, to gape in awe; we require mag­ic as much as we require air. As jour­nal­ist Bill Moyers writes, “Creativity is pierc­ing the mun­dane to find the marvelous.” 

We can all see, but trans­ac­tions with beau­ty teach us how to look, which is a far more impor­tant life skill. Those moments make us stop and look more deeply, like plac­ing a frame around the now. Writer and the­olo­gian Carl Frederick Buechner wrote, “The frame sets it off from every­thing else that dis­tracts us. That is the nature and pur­pose of frames. The frame does not change the moment, but it changes our way of per­ceiv­ing the moment. It makes us notice the moment.”

But beau­ty is a con­tract we must inten­tion­al­ly sign. Not only must we find beau­ty, we must cre­ate and pass it along as well. Transactions with beau­ty only occur when we con­scious­ly choose to look, find, gen­er­ate, and share those moments of time­less­ness in a tem­po­ral world.

While some con­sid­er a life of trans­ac­tion­al beau­ty nonessen­tial, I believe it’s an oblig­a­tion to seek out and share mag­ic in a dark world. Now, more than ever, the world needs those will­ing to look for the light-filled cracks and reflect the beau­ty they’ve found.

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