Is An Orange Beautiful?

Is an orange beautiful?

At first the question threw me off. I’d never previously thought about an orange in terms of beauty. In fact I’ve always just thought of oranges as food. Something to eat and momentarily enjoy.

Over the summer I learnt the pleasures of eating a fresh, in season, organic orange. Whenever I went to a supermarket with another person I’d buy one, peel it and offer a slice. “Mmmm, taste this orange! It’s so good.” A lot of my summer was spent getting people to share my passion for organic oranges.

Yet, at no point did I ever consider an orange to be beautiful. I considered an orange in every way. I argued with a girl I’d barely met about how you MUST peel all the white stuff off the orange before you eat it, she retorted that the white bit was the tastiest part. All I could say was,”are you mental?!”

I debated the eating method. Is it acceptable to eat an orange as though it’s an apple? Or is the only true way to eat an orange, one slice at a time, savouring every drop of juice?

Most importantly I enjoyed eating a shit load of oranges. But still, I never sat down, held an orange in my hand, felt the dimples of texture on my fingers and thought “wow, isn’t an orange beautiful?”

Oranges are just one of those things that seem to have always been around, their purpose is not beauty, it’s nutrition, a healthy dose of vitamin C. So how could an orange be beautiful? More importantly, why am I even talking about this?

Well, recently I read the amazing autobiography of Brian Keenan, “An Evil Cradling“.

In the late 80s, Keenan was kidnapped in Lebanon and held as a hostage for 4 1/2 years. The book details the pain of those years, how Keenan was held in tiny rooms with little to focus his mind on, only managing to stay sane with the help of his cellmate.

For the first few months of his kidnapping, Keenan was held in solitary confinement.  His room was 6 feet by 3 feet and made entirely of grey cinder blocks. In the corner was a mattress. That was it, this was the room Keenan lived in for months. Alone.

The sole activity of Keenan’s day was to wake in the morning, being taken from his cell to the toilet (a cockroach invested hole in the ground) and then to use a shower in the same room. After the shower, Keenan would be led back to his cell to find his food for the day. Bread, jam and a hard boiled egg. That was the whole day done for Keenan, the rest of his day was filled with a void.

Quite quickly the monotony of Keenan’s life started to get to him. He had nothing to do, nothing to read, nobody to talk to. He could only sit and stare at the dull walls. His only source of stimulus was his mind. So he took to thinking, about everything and anything, all day, every day.

Eventually he no longer had control over his thinking, his thoughts jumped around randomly, his mood shifted constantly from a suicidal depression to an overwhelming euphoria. He spent whole days crying. One day his mind was so driven to insanity that he could hear music in his room, all his favourite songs blaring out to him. Automatically his body started to dance to the music, he wasn’t in control, his legs and arms swung around wildly. He span around his cell for hours, jumping against the walls, dancing every dance he’d ever learnt, until eventually he collapsed in exhaustion.

The bare room drove him to despair, it broke him. He writes:

Many times I think of death, pray for it, look for it, chase after its rapturous kiss. But I have come to a point of such nothingness that even death cannot be. I have no more weeping. All the host of emotions that make a man are no longer part of me. They have gone from me. But something moves in this empty place. A profound sense of longing, not loneliness, simply longing.

The days ground along slowly, Keenan found himself struggling more and more to control his thoughts. The dull routine and the lack of stimulation tore away at him. Then one day, Keenan arrived back from his shower to find something on the floor of his cell:

But wait. My eyes are almost burned by what I see. There’s a bowl in front of me that wasn’t there before. A brown button bowl and in it some apricots, some small oranges, some nuts, cherries, a banana. The fruits, the colours, mesmerise me in a quiet rapture that spins through my head. I am entranced by colour. I lift an orange into the flat filthy palm of my hand and feel and smell and lick it. The colour orange, the colour, the colour, my God the colour orange. Before me is a feast of colour. I feel myself begin to dance, slowly. I am intoxicated by colour. I feel the colour in a quiet somnambulist rage. Such wonder, such absolute wonder in such an insignificant fruit.

Keenan becomes obsessed with the orange. This fruit that he’d never thought about before – that he’d always taken for granted – was suddenly a talisman to him. Having experienced nothing for days, suddenly Keenan’s mind was opened to the beauty, the colour of the orange.  His perspective of the fruit changed immediately. The fruit was no longer something to be eaten, but instead something to observe,a piece of beauty. The fruit gave him back a small part of his humanity, made him realise that there was more than nothingness around him.

Keenan didn’t bother to eat the fruit. He just sat with it, mesmerised for days, cherishing the way it looked, as it slowly started to get overripe. Eventually a guard came, seeing the uneaten fruit, he asked “why you no eat?” and Keenan knew he couldn’t explain it. It’s not easy to understand the beauty of an orange.

Photo 1: “Satsuma” by beth19 [on Flickr]
Photo 2: “Orange…Now with texture!” by bibbit [on Flickr]

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31 thoughts on “Is An Orange Beautiful?”

    1. It’s a brilliant book, probably one of the best I’ve ever read. But bear in mind 90% of the book is about what happens to the guy when he’s a hostage, so most of it is just about what he thought about and little things that happened. It’s mostly about the bond of friendship he forms with a cellmate later on. Might not be for everybody!

  1. When I read the title of the post, I immediately said ‘yes’. Well, I’ve learnt that if something is useful, then it is beautiful.
    ~beautiful post Mr. Dan!
    Btw, oranges in my home country have green skin.

    1. Haha. You are clearly more open-minded to the world of fruit than I am! What do green oranges taste like? I’m guessing they just look like weird, large limes?

        1. Hah, they look totally weird! Like giant limes! 😀 My brain knows what a lime looks like…so seeing these green oranges is just…strange, in a good way.

  2. Another good read, Dan. Thanks. I think the larger picture here is the appreciation of things around us, and how dulled our senses can become over time. Never lose sight of the simple beauties life has to offer.

    1. I agree. I originally set out to make that point, but I just kind of got caught up in the writing I guess. The main thing I really wanted to say is that…perhaps we take a lot of things for granted because we’re a little overindulgent and spoilt, which, as you say, leads to a lack of appreciation for a lot of things and dulls our senses. We never truly appreciate something like colour, as it’s all around us, everyday. But if we take a step back and really look at things, then we can appreciate them for what they are. You can’t appreciate an orange until you really step back and see how beautiful it is, not in comparison to everything around you, but just by itself.

      I could easily write another 1000 words about this, but I’m trying to keep my word count down because I feel like the amount of crap I write scares some people off my blog!

      Anyway, cheers for the comment! 🙂

  3. I could have responded heartily to your response to my comment but I think we see eye to eye. In the spirit of not scaring the masses from your blog, suffice it to say look past the day and into the moment.

    Just noticed I signed in under STHCW before, but this is Jeff. Peace.

  4. Fab post and yes, I want to read Keenan’s book too now. It’s so important to take note of the smallest things around us and appreciate them. Every day I there are things I see and appreciate – the shy smile of a child in front of me on the train. Someone letting me go ahead of them in the supermarket queue. A building reflected in a puddle. These things all make such a difference to everyday life and keep the world really REAL. I can’t quite explain it.

    As for Brian Keenan, stories like his and many others keep me wondering constantly at the strength and fragility of the human spirit and mind. I’m thankful that I haven’t really had to experience how far I can be pushed…

    PS I’ve posted to my blog this week so you don’t have to write me a mean email after all, blog buddy!

    1. You can get that Brian Keenan book off Amazon.co.uk, second-hand, for about £1.40, with free delivery. Get on it! You wont regret it, and if you do, it only cost you £1.40…

      I am always completely amazed (and inspired) by feats of extreme mental strength and determination. Stories of great human endurance always make me sit back (for a few minutes…) and appreciate things. I went to see that movie 127 Hours last week and that was one of those stories. Simply amazing what people will do to keep alive and strong in the most negative of situations!

  5. There’s something that goes to say how awkward it can be to explain to someone how beautiful something so “everyday” can be. 😀 Creative minds tend to grasp this concept, but every now and then I find myself trying to explain this to someone who has never noticed something like this before and they’re either like: “Whaaaaaaat? You fucking hippie.”, “Oh…yeah thats cool.” or maybe “Yeah….that is beautful (run away!)”

    Nice post 😀

    1. I often have this problem with words or sounds. For some reason I really enjoy some sounds and when I try to explain it to people they just think I’m crazy. Some words look great too. Like the word “phlegm”. Obviously the meaning is disgusting, but the way the letters come together and the way it sounds when you say. That’s one hell of a word! Hah.

  6. Keenan attended Orangefield High School. Was it the colour, the fruit itself, its very presence……or The Presence of a connection to a time and place, the symbolism of which may not have been obvious at the time?

    1. Going by what I’ve read I think you’d perhaps enjoy the orange a little too much…you might get carried away with yourself and end up squishing it…

  7. An orange Is indeed beautiful.. and i can see how someone could get obsessed with its beauty and go crazy about the orange of the orange 🙂 there’s a fine line between “hmm this orange looks good” and “my god this orange is beautiful” (staring at it mesmerized) 😛 and yes the white stuff MUST be peeled-off. enjoyed the read.

  8. Thankyou. This part of Keenan’s amazing book could be described as a moment of mindfulness. He was completely absorbed, experiencing the orange with heightened senses, particularly due to his long isolation. I am running a course on mindful writing and I may use your post to illustrate it if that’s ok!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Tom. Feel free to use it on your course. I actually have a small love for books about isolation. I recently read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography and one of the ways he kept busy was through gardening. It’s definitely linked to mindfulness.

      1. oh yes, I am fond of books about isolation, solitude even alienation! Says a lot about me I’m sure haha. I can reccomend Sylvain Tesson’s ‘Consolations of the Forest’ about being holed-up in a cabin in Siberia. I’m a bit of a hermit myself… best wishes x

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