This slightly gangling word is often associated with closure – when someone is retiring, perhaps a post-dinner party note of thanks or a comment on a picture particularly admired. It appears in obituaries. It is a courteous way of saying a warmer than usual ‘thank you’.
Appreciation is wider than that. Watch an experienced wine aficionado, a professional tea taster or an expert perfumer. They even display a physical sensation that goes beyond smell or taste. Their whole body ‘feels’ and reacts to the experience. They infuse and exude an embrace of belonging. They are appreciating.
The Film Censor in the 1950s in Britain taught me a lot. John Trevelyan, had a tiny underground cinema of a few, rather uncomfortable, seats in Soho Square when I was first in advertising. Because I was working on cinema-going I was allowed to enter this hallowed but scruffy den, filled with smoke as the Censor puffed his way through movie after movie, each trying to extend the licence of what he would allow to be screened to the public. His dilemma in balancing the aspirational morality of the nation with its post-war urge for unbridled sexual freedom was a study in reading people I shall never forget. The appreciation I learned from it was not just about understanding fellow humans but also about savouring film acting.
We are not learning to appreciate as we should be. We gulp our food, describe our drinks as ‘shots’, deafen ourselves with indifferent pop music to prevent any comprehension of conversation. We stumble over building high-speed rail links that fail to connect the places we need to get from and to, all in the interests of ‘saving time’. Yet when I asked a bank recently if they could give me a loan of some time they were unable to oblige. “Time”, the manager said rather pompously, “is of the essence”. My point exactly. I want to enjoy it.
The camera, now indistinguishable from the mobile computer, has much to answer for. An occasional good picture is a joy for now and a happy memory for later. When every occasion becomes a photo opportunity with an event attached we have become recorders not humans. When every meal becomes a cooking lesson with food ancillary, we have become chefs not consumers. When every communication is a command or a beg we lose the opportunity for an exchange of thought and feeling that far outweighs survival.
We miss the chance to learn why we are here and what we can do that will fulfil us.
When I was young I had friends who were involved in horse breeding and training. Their children grew up on the backs of ponies. The parents’ analysis round the kitchen table after a show was ‘gentle-tough’. No ruthless criticism, no threats but a deep study of horse-and-rider compatibility. Some were as at one with their horse; others had difficulty staying in tune. What made the difference? A natural affinity for horse riding, of course, but it was more than that. The successful could read their horse. Not just an assessment of the steed’s mood but a continuous understanding of its changing tempo. It was a joy to see.
Every age has a few traps and many surprises. Blessed with the ability to remember, it is an opportunity to recall people, occasions, happenings, thoughts that have built the bridge between now and after. Life teaches a philosophy. When we have time to weigh what modern technology, crowded-world behaviour and aspirational hope will bring, we possess a blessing to allow our brain and glinting eyes to relish a potpourri.
Such pleasure, such mind-lighting discovery is not confined to any age. Recall a time when you felt at peace with yourself and with the world. Let its tidal memory slowly lap around you, making you calm but not millpond still. Enable the fussy waves to kiss your mental muscles so they may relax into an appreciation of calm. Make that stillness a touch of confidence – like a friend tapping your shoulder with encouragement. Allow this experience as unique to you.
You have appreciated something.
It is the greatest sensation on earth.
24 September 2023