This Memorial Day weekend, my husband and I went to Central Washington to relax. My goal for the extended weekend was to be inspired. I was in need for silence, peace and time to write and play music. I needed to be in contact with myself and be infused by the beauty of nature; or better, to feel myself an integral part of nature. I sought to feel the cold breeze of the Cascades and allowed myself to get wet by the constant sprinkles of the Pacific Northwest. I just wanted to take in whatever nature presented me.
The place we stayed in was inspiring and beautiful; we had great views of the Cascades and the Cle Elum River. I wasn’t aware, however, that I had come to this place with a bias; and with that bias, I couldn’t fully appreciate the region’s true beauty.
During our first night, my husband and I went to Downtown Cle Elum for dinner. The restaurant was simple with a traditional/country atmosphere: flowery red-and-green carpet; Christmas-green wood paneling; paintings by a local artist on the walls; white, fake-lace curtains; and cheap lighting fixtures.
In the restaurant, I observed the locals: a teenage couple wearing cheap jeans discussing the math exam they just had, and a mature couple discussing more serious stuff. The male of the latter couple had longer hair and was wearing a t-shirt with a skull on the back and a baseball cap saying “Spokane, WA.”
These simple observations were good conversation starters for my husband and me.
“Would you live here?,” he asked. “Never,” I responded quickly. “I would prefer going to the worst city on earth than to live somewhere as remote.” How could someone who is so accustomed to beautifully designed clothing and furniture live somewhere where the word luxury is not part of the day-to-day vocabulary? How could someone who appreciates avant-garde art and state-of-the-art architecture live somewhere where art is kitsch and architecture is standard? Never!
I later realized how foolish that thought was. But I had to go to Downtown Cle Elum for the second time to recognize that. And I’m glad I did it.
The following day we were back in Downtown Cle Elum. This time, we were there to attend to our customary weekly Catholic mass. As all constructions in the city, the church building was small and simple with wooden pews and wall paneling.
As I did in the restaurant, I observed the locals. This time, instead of noticing people’s exteriors – their clothes, conversations and actions – I sought to observe their hearts, the motives for their actions and behaviors.
There was a choir singing traditional old hymns. There was no instrument, just the voices of the voluntary ladies and gentlemen. Even though none of them seemed to be formally trained, they were singing beautifully, they were doing their best to animate the service.
There was also the usher, who patiently guided the tourists arriving late (ourselves included) to stand by the walls and not block the flux of people in the building. The priest himself was very humble and grateful. At the end of the mass, he thanked the community for praying for his eye surgery and commented how touched he was by the community’s love and prayers.
Again, I looked at the lighting fixtures. They were cheap, certainly. But after observing the people in that church, I thought there couldn’t be better lamps to adorn that ceiling. People there were as simple as the building they were in, as simple as the town itself.
I asked myself, “What is luxury for if you can give the best of yourself with simplicity?” I thought about the artist who painted the pictures of that restaurant’s walls. Who am I to judge her art and say it’s bad taste? She probably doesn’t have as much access to resources as someone who lives in the city and is probably doing her best.
I’ve realized that if I look at the exterior only, I’m blinded about the interior, and it is the interior what really matters. The paintings, the jeans, the lamps, the paneling, the carpets, the curtains… everything are just ways for people to tell the world who they are, and isn’t it diversity what we aim for?
I came to the realization that the beauty behind the kitsch art and cheap home décor were the people behind it, the creative souls who dedicated themselves to their work. Even though I’m certain I’ll continue to attend to my arts events in Seattle and will certainly refine my taste for fashion and home decor, I guess I’ve learned to appreciate tradition and simplicity. People with earnest hearts and actions have taught me.