by Sherry Marr
pre-dawn dog walk past the Mission
fellow pushing a cart stops me:
“I’m a human being…
and a teacher you know.”
He looked up into the sky,
then back to me.
“Got a word for you… your homework:
I handed him some money –
he pushed it back with both hands.
“Give that to the next saint you meet,
there’s one just up the street.”
He gave his cart a big inertia breaking push
turned the corner singing.
by Chris Olson, the Tired Monk
who writes at Humbucker Poems
Recently, I watched the movie Collateral Beauty starring Will Smith, who portrays a man in grief struggling with life in the midst of a grievous loss. A character in the movie tells him, “Don’t forget to notice the moments of collateral beauty.” Collateral beauty could be defined as those moments of awe when we realize our profound connection to everything. I am fortunate to experience these moments often; I imagine most poets do.
As I was writing this, I came across Brother Ollie’s poem, above. (Brother Ollie is the Tired Monk’s moniker.) It is such an EXCELLENT, heart-lifting example of finding these moments, that I asked for his permission to share it with you. He replied, with his assent: “I’ve been thinking a lot about our homeless community, and I work a lot at trying to help them. I often stop and chat with various street people, and toss them a little positivity, and human connection. It is amazing how often they offer me blessings. Joy is our homework!”
I love that so much! His poem describes those soul-filling moments when we experience the beauty that human beings are capable of, even – or especially – in dark times.
The world is so beautiful, everywhere – the beauty of nature shining through, no matter what place on the planet we inhabit, or what horrors are going on. I think that is what hurts so much – observing the beauty and generosity of Mother Earth, even while we are making her ill. (We mothers can relate to that; our job description includes a great deal of self-sacrifice.) And then there are the lovely moments when humans reach out to each other, stretching our hearts. Or try to save a forest. Or live as conscious human beings, among all the other beings.
Living where I do, in the spectacular landscape of Clayoquot Sound, beauty is front and centre every day. I think of the quote:
Life is not measured in how many breaths we take,
but in the moments that take our breath away.
Daily, I catch my breath in wonder and gratitude: at morning fog swirling through the trees and slowly lifting at the beach; at ancient cedar with impossibly wide gnarled trunks – beings that have witnessed one or two thousand years of living; at sunrises and sunsets beautiful enough to break your heart – or make it soar!
It is hard in those moments to believe anything at all is wrong on this planet – until you turn on the news. Some people prefer not to know; they feel more comfortable staying inside their bubble. But we poets are observers of life and recorders of history – and herstory. It is our job to know, to bear witness, to sing out warnings, songs of grief, love and gratitude for all that still is so plentiful, still ours, for this short span of time. We are the canaries in the mine.
But just as the quote – and poetry – reminds us, the moments of collateral beauty are many and they are there every day, if we slow our pace enough to catch them. I often recall the words of my activist friend that I have shared with you before: “Mother Earth feels your pain. Let her feel your joy too.” Let’s keep our eyes wide open for the moments of collateral beauty.
While I was putting this challenge together, I came across another wonderful example of this in the following poem by our own Sarah Connor, who writes at Sarah writes poems. Poems like these really lift the spirit and expand the heart, reminding us that love is what matters, no matter what – love, humanity, and gratitude for the beauty of this world we’re walking through. Check out Sarah’s beautiful affirmation:
Is this a sad song, or a happy one?
I’m never sure. But turn it up,
let all that richness pour
out of the speakers. Let it roll,
and see the world unfurl
under your gaze. Look again
at every tree, at that dog sniffing
at the wall, at that child holding tightly
to his mother’s hand. That’s love.
Look at the sky. It’s blue. It’s truly blue.
Look at the grass. It’s green. Look out
for love – it comes in different ways.
Yes, turn it up. He’s singing now.
We’re singing, too. It’s true –
what a wonderful world this is,
the one we’re living in,
the one we’re moving through.
Sigh. So lovely.
Your challenge: As you walk through the hours this week, be alert for those moments of collateral beauty. It can be a moment experienced in nature, or a shining example of human resonance, as in the poems above. It can be as small as morning dew on a spider web in the garden, or as large as a mountain turning purple at twilight. Take note of that unexpected indrawn breath, eyes widened in wonder, heart opened and warmed by what is being witnessed. Then write your poem. Take our breath away. I am especially looking forward to your responses to this challenge.