When the Italian government imposed a national quarantine beginning March 9 in an attempt to contain the coronavirus, Robbie Shackelford, director of Harding University in Florence (HUF), and his wife, Mona, remained where they were in the middle of the pandemic’s epicenter. The couple chose to shelter in the HUF villa just outside of Florence instead of at their small apartment at San Quirico in Collina, Italy. Applying his life motto, “Aggressively seeking beauty every day,” to the quarantine circumstances, Shackelford has posted daily to his Instagram feed photos of sunshine, nature and paintings as well as videos of singing and expressions of joy.
Junior Ben Shearer, who attended HUF in 2019, said aggressively seeking beauty was likely the biggest lesson he took from his time studying abroad. He said seeing Shackelford’s Instagram posts brought a smile to his face during this bleak time.
“I think Robbie is a prime example of someone who lives for every moment,” Shearer said. “That’s how he seeks beauty. Whether it’s his mundane drive to work or an average day in the villa, he loves what he does, he loves where he is and he loves those around him. That cultivates a lot of beautiful moments.”
Shackelford said his motto developed approximately 12 years ago when instructor of communication sciences and disorders Debbie Woodroof forwarded an email to him that she had received from a friend grieving the loss of her husband. In her email she said she learned to aggressively seek beauty every day since her husband died. Shackelford adopted this motto and has spent every year since applying it to his life.
Ethan Brown, assistant director of HUF, said he first heard about seeking beauty from Shackelford when he attended the program in 2014 as a student. Prior to that, Brown said he was familiar with the idiom, “Stop and smell the roses,” but discovered that aggressively seeking beauty requires intentionality rather than just passively appreciating something nearby. Though now back in the United States, Brown experienced the beginning of the Italian quarantine with the Shackelfords.
“His motto has challenged me to always keep things in perspective,” Brown said. “When I choose to aggressively seek beauty, I am reminded that even on cloudy days or during times of despair, I can find God’s beauty anywhere.”
Seeking beauty and positivity was not always easy, Shackelford said. The quarantine was not the first challenge he has experienced; harder times in his life include the death of people he loved. Shackelford said that whenever he found it hard to be positive, he looked back through old files and photos, painted, read and spent time with friends.
“There is so much that is not beautiful, and we can choose to dwell or deal with that, but seeking beauty means seeking to be a part of the solution,” Shackelford said. “It means action. It may not come naturally, but if you make it a part of your ‘essere’ or ‘being,’ I believe it can help us be happy and be a blessing to others.”