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]