Dainty Things

Lauffenburg on the Rhine, John Ruskin, 1863.

I glanced out of the window, my eyes absorbing the Malaysian foilage and swaying flowers. Summer winds, for it is always summer, rustle through the trees, stirring the leaves to a soft waltz. Butterflies pirouette through the air, flaunting wings of ivory, ebony silk, deep amber, and pale yellow.

A question transpires in my mind:

Why have we lost our love for dainty things?

Perhaps it was the fragility of nature, the soft flutter of the butterfly’s wings, that prompted the thought. Wings like sheets of paper, easily ripped in a tempest of fury or despair.

In the nineteenth century, Industrialisation heavily mechanized our world. Warfare shifted from the personal sphere of hand-to-hand and sword-to-sword combat to an impersonal range of slaughter. Next to the propensity of technological advances, in all fields, dainty things seem superfluous. Inapplicable. “Delicacy,” as a word, has long been a synonym for both frivolity and weakness. What has yellowed lace, butterflies, teacups, letters, the hands of an aged woman have to offer in comparison to portable coffee mugs, cold steel, swift and efficient technology?

A lot, I would argue.

In our elevation of the stoic, the grand, the powerful, we have forsaken (and forgotten) the power of delicate things.

Dainty things are the restoration of humanity. They remind our war-torn, monetized, mechanized beings of our attachment to memories, to place, to love, to beauty.

How bleak the world must seem to the people caught in the anguish of separation, bereavement, fear, and loss of agency as the home and the future they knew is gradually torn away. How bleak has this reality always been?

Yet, even in the aching darkness, delicacy enters. Amidst the carnage and anguish of World War I and II, postcards fluttered through. Words of love, of lament, of comfort balmed the souls of grieved men. They ushered slivers of light into the shadows of war. These fragile sheets of paper offered a refuge that the solid steel of weaponry and depths of the trenches could not.

In every crowd of lost, weary travelers, there is a man with his violin.

A woman with her tea set.

A boy with his mother’s scarf.

A girl with her journal.

People carrying practices, traditions, cherished items that sustain them.

There are stories behind delicate things. There is sanity in delicate things.

My heart aches for the starving children, the broken men, the mothers forced to give birth underground in Ukraine. I pray that delicacy may visit them. That bread and warm tea, gentle hands, the touch of new life will sustain them. Even when brick walls and weaponry cannot.

As I write this, fighter jets, on a drill, fly above my house. As they have for the past week. Above the chilling hum of the engines, I can hear the birds sing. A lilting, joyful melody.

I listen to them.

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