catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 8 :: 2004.04.09 — 2004.04.22


Beauty from tragedy

Snug in my bed with some combination of cold and flu seems an odd place from which to contemplate beauty, but that was where I found myself this afternoon with the pressing obligation to write something up for this issue. But perhaps it was an appropriate way to distract myself from my bodily woes.

So I focused on the hesitant plunking noises coming from downstairs that characterize a young child learning to translate notes on a page to sounds on the piano. I focused on the sound of the wind that seemed to want to throw this house up in the air with the dust particles and the clouds. I noticed how our homemade bed quilt is already beginning to show loving signs of wear. And I remembered the odd buoyancy I felt a couple of days ago when it seemed as though I was entirely invincible.

I had gone to see my friend from New Mexico perform at my old high school on her spring choir tour. At their performance the night before, I had accidentally left my water bottle sitting under my chair at a local church, so I had determined to go after the morning performance to retrieve my lost property.

With time on my hands and a lovely spring day to entice me, I decided to improvise a shortcut to the church, heading south on a road I had rarely traveled. I was beginning to see signs for places I had thought were quite far away when I felt the smallest bit of panic, but with the windows down, the music turned up, the sky so blue and the endless parade of daffodils, I reassured myself that the worst scenario would be backtracking to a more familiar intersection. The road eventually ended in a “T” and I headed east, still in the general direction of the church.

Several miles later, the road appeared to dead-end into a parking lot. What was this mysterious place? Turns out the parking lot belong to the very church that was my destination and I parked, easily retrieved my water bottle, and returned to the car with a feeling of lightness, of possibility. “What luck!,” I thought, vaguely feeling a part of some 50s family sitcom in which everything turns out okay in the end, and no dilemma is more serious than a little white lie.

I drove out of the parking lot and approached a four-way stop. “What luck!” I was clearly the first one stopped and could proceed left through the intersection without having to play one of those silly, ’I’ll go, no you go, ok, I’ll go’ games with the other drivers. “What luck!” And out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that a white van was about 15 feet away from me, still moving at full speed, with no regard for the stop sign. In a single second, I locked eyes with the driver, screamed an emergency “Holy shit!,” braced myself for a collision, and floored the gas. He slammed on his breaks, and I stopped, in one un-crunched piece, on the other side of the intersection. I gasped for air and started to shake as he looked back at me and sheepishly continued on his way.

I drove back to my parents’ house where I was staying with a deep feeling of panic and a desperate need to discover some deeper meaning or lesson in such an odd, upsetting experience. All of the clichés and what-ifs ran through my head, but in the end, I was left with simple gratitude: gratitude for the now-brighter brightness of creation, for patient and defensive drivers, for full torque in our little 90-horsepower engine, for the graciousness of God to spare me one more day for meaningful work.

I guess you could say that every near-crisis experience tends to remind us of all we have to be grateful for and to explode the mundane world into a stunning display of beauty. But if that’s where the lesson rests, with beauty itself, we only perceive a small part of the picture. As long as we live in this broken world, beauty will continue to alternately focus and fade. Our enjoyment of the beauty that is here prepares us for the full future enjoyment of God who is perfect Beauty, perfect Light, perfect Love, and perfect Justice. I’m glad for the moments when I’m allowed to glimpse God in the goodness of life, but also for the moments that provide the contrast—even if those moments do entail a day or two confined to bed.

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