My sister died after suffering for several months

from breast cancer, and her daughter Christine heard about her hopeless situation only when she was already sedated with morphine.


Alma Plato blog 8a



About a month ago, a friend invited me to join an online mini-session of so-called “Deep Philosophy,” a weekly group activity which she had been attending enthusiastically. At first I excused myself, but after several such invitations I finally gave in and took part in it.

We were about twelve participants on the computer screen. We read together a brief text of Plato about love, taken from his “Symposium.” It seemed a deep text, but somehow I did not connect to it. It was too far away from my everyday life and too abstract. The love of the absolute, ascending the ladder of beauty from stage 1 to stage 5…

“A person who has ascended these steps, under the influence of true love […] arrives at the understanding of absolute beauty, and at last he knows what the essence of beauty is…”

What could that possibly mean? For me, beauty is beauty, and there is nothing to add.

I quickly forgot about Plato, until a curious string of events brought me back to this same text. It started when Drake, my business partner, mentioned a common acquaintance, Caroline.

Years ago, Caroline belonged to the same circle of friends which Drake and I shared. She was not a good-looking woman, a bit bulky and bland, but with a gentle character. Neither I nor Drake had a deep relation with her, and when she stopped coming to our social events, I lost sight of her.

Several months later, Drake mentioned to me that he happened to see Caroline, and told me a little about why she had disappeared. She used to work as a counselor at a women’s shelter. Then she herself suffered physical violence from her partner who nearly killed her, and this threw her life out of balance. She lost her well-paying job, then returned to university for a psychology degree, but when it was time for writing her thesis, she did not have the inner energy to finish it.

At the same time, Drake himself went through a difficult period following his divorce. His 23 year old son Jason tried to commit suicide and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. To tell the truth, I was too busy with my work to go out of my way and offer him the opportunity to share with me his difficulties. But he apparently did so with Caroline, with whom his friendship gradually deepened.

When Drake told me all this, I was surprised to hear him describe Caroline as a “beautiful person.” A few moments later, when he said the same thing again, I felt a little irritated. I remembered Caroline, and “beautiful” was the last thing you could say about her. Her face was indistinct and puffy, and nobody would glance at her twice when she walked down the street or entered a room full of people. Drake, in contrast, was a handsome and socially active man, and I wondered what he found in her.

A week or two later I met with Drake for lunch to discuss a new business project, and I found the opportunity to express my perplexity. He smiled.

“Alma, did I tell you that a year ago Caroline happened to move to my home town? I met her a couple of times, and then I introduced her to my son Jason when he came out of the psychiatric hospital. The two of them liked each other right away.”

“Oh, I didn’t know you and Caroline were such good friends. How is she doing?”

“She is truly lovely” he replied. “Last week she went with me and my son Jason to a concert, and she was a pretty sight to see.”

I was even more puzzled. “You didn’t fall in love with her, did you?”

There was a little pause, and then he laughed. “No, no. I consider her a very close friend. She is a beautiful human being, and I am grateful for the happy coincidence that brought us together.”

“A beautiful person?” I mumbled.

It turned out that Caroline, while struggling with her studies, dedicated herself to helping Jason, and the young man slowly developed trust in her. She consulted with him about some computer issues, and Jason started feeling appreciated. As she dedicated more time and love to this young man, he opened up to her, and slowly found interest in life again. One evening Drake came back home and found the two of them in the kitchen, giggling like teenagers over a new vegetarian dish they were inventing. Caroline, too, found meaning in her relationship with Jason. Soon she opened a small center for young adults with difficulties.

Drake’s story touched me and stayed on my mind. When I finally happened to meet Caroline, I could see what he was seeing in her. Physically she was as unattractive as ever, but now I could sense that she radiated beauty from her inner self.

This brought me back to Plato’s text, which I found on the Agora website ( When I read it, I could now understand what Plato had in mind:

[A person] will realize that the beauty of the soul is much higher than the beauty of the body. And so, if he meets somebody with a lovely soul, even in an unlovely body, he will be content to fall in love with him and admire him, and he will be motivated to find and express thoughts which may build in him a noble character. 

The beauty of the soul is higher than the beauty of the body – what an idea! And how true!

When I continued reading, I saw that Plato’s vision goes even further, and includes still-higher levels of beauty – the intellectual beauty of the sciences, and even the spiritual beauty of the absolute. Personally, I am not sure I connect to these higher levels of beauty, but I certainly understand that beauty is not necessarily in the body. As I learned from Caroline, great beauty can be found in the personality, even in a person as unattractive as Caroline.