Beauty: what is it?

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We’ll do anything to watch a sunset on a clear summer day at the beach. We’ll stand and stare and remain silent, as suffused shades of orange stretch over the horizon. Meanwhile, the sun, like a painter who keeps changing his mind about which colors to use, finally resolves everything with shades of pink and light yellow, before sinking, finally, into stunning whiteness.

Suddenly, we are marveled and uplifted, pulled out of our small, ordinary lives and taken to a realm far richer and more eloquent than anything we know.

Call it enchantment, the difference between the time-bound and the timeless, between us and the otherworldly. All beauty and art evoke harmonies that transport us to a place where, for only seconds, time stops and we are one with the world. It is the best life has to offer.

Under the spell of beauty, we experience a rare condition called plenitude, where we want for nothing. It isn’t just a feeling. Or if it is, then it’s a feeling like love — yes, exactly like love. Love, after all, is the most intimate thing we know. And feeling one with someone or something isn’t just an unrivaled condition, but one we do not want to live without.

We fall in love with sunsets and beaches, with tennis, with works of art, with places like Tuscany and the Rockies and the south of France, and, of course, with other people — not just because of who or what they are, but because they promise to realign us with our better selves, with the people we’ve always known we were but neglected to become, the people we crave to be before our time runs out.

André Aciman is the author of “Call Me by Your Name” and “Find Me.”

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