“Shibui is about balancing simplicity with complexity…being aware of subtle details. That way you don’t get tired of what you see…. The Japanese call it a beauty with inner implications. It’s not a show off kind of thing…. And here’s the most interesting thing: It relies on the ones looking…to make something for themselves out of what they see; in that way, it makes an artist out of the observer….” —Elizabeth Berg, “Once Upon a Time, There Was You”
I have laid down a folded up sleeping bag on the living room floor for my dog. That’s something she really likes about me.
Right now, she’s across the room sleeping on it, which has become necessary on our hardwood floors in the last year or so. She is nearly 13 and her hips aren’t what they used to be.
She has trouble—especially in cold weather—getting up and down the stairs and sometimes simply laying down or getting back up. A soft place for her hind end to land seems to make her life a little easier.
I notice how white the fur is around her chin and on the back of her legs. Her age is catching up with her and it seems to be catching up with me, too.
Many days the former puppy in her shows up, leaving me with no reason to think twice about the reality of her aging. But more and more often, I see her struggling to reposition or even breathe normally without huffing and puffing.
And when she does, she looks up at me as if to ask “What is going on with me?” Her big brown eyes look a little sadder than they used to. And it’s kind of hard to watch.
She’s a pretty lab. I’ve always thought so. If it’s possible for a dog to age gracefully, she’s done it. She can still be silly and playful, but most often she’s stretched out and relaxed, with a look on her face that translates into “I’m tired but I’m kicking.”
It’s hard to put a name to an aging dog. Dignified? Experienced? I don’t think the English language has the right word.
But the Japanese do. Shibui.
Loosely translated, it is beauty grown from time. It’s a controlled understatement, enhanced by character. Faults, experience, weather, and imperfections create it.
And if considered, it provides a way to constantly find new meaning in beauty. A 1960 issue of House Beautiful said it is “enhanced by particularities.” And it can apply to nearly anything. Inanimate objects–furniture, décor, jewelry; or especially animate—people, trees, dogs.
Such a great word. It implies that beauty doesn’t actually require bright peacock feathers in perfect symmetry, flawlessly smooth silk, or bold embellishments.
These aren’t permanent. They fade because it takes a lot of effort and too much work keep them going. Half of shibui, representing it, is effortless. The other half, seeing it, might not come so naturally, at first.
Leave it to a dog to represent shibui. That’s something I really like about her.