That’s the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video’s a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember… I need to remember… Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.
— Ricky Fitts, American Beauty
Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley), enlightened-misfit artist who lives next door to not-yet-enlightened Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), in Sam Mendes’ and Alan Ball’s brilliant film, American Beauty, videotapes the “sacred…in the ordinary:”* his parents at home, a plastic grocery bag “dancing” in the wind, a dead bird.
He captures the beauty to remember.
Last night, we attended an art show by a famous musician, S (for Short for…). He spoke, and 200 people listened. He did what I suspect many artists do: rambled through the mundane en route to the meaningful, circled around to hilarity. (His story about playing onstage with Willie Nelson makes me smile now.) S punctuated his talk with a few fly-by’s at what cannot be spoken, making what T.S. Eliot called “raid[s] on the inarticulate.”
One story, in particular, I will remember when I hear his band’s music or see his art or read his name:
Leaving his home in rural North Carolina, S passed a horse in a field that passed in the night. He had to be somewhere but felt compelled to return to his house and retrieve his camera. S walked into the field and photographed the horse. S told the audience that perhaps this was morbid, photographing a dead horse.
But I don’t believe he thought it was. I didn’t think it was.
Standing before us, S looked down, as he must have when standing above the horse. Perhaps he was remembering that moment, reliving it, maybe forgetting that 200 people were listening.
In the field, he said, he was thinking how this body in the grass was on its journey toward becoming dirt.
As S spoke of the horse, I remembered American Beauty. I remembered that artists cannot look away. (I don’t remember who said that.)
When artist Tom Schulz introduced S, he said great artists make him want to paint. I’m grateful to S and to Ricky Fitts (created by Alan Ball, brought to life by Sam Mendes and Wes Bentley) and to Tom and Sheila Ennis and Lisa Rubenson and Lauren and to the entire “Team A” that put together the event. They make me want to write.
Because there’s so much beauty in the world, and I want to remember that. I want to remember that it’s okay for my heart to feel so much that sometimes it hurts. And I want to remember that there is nothing to fear.
*From Deng Ming-Dao’s unnamed poem in 365 Tao (HarperOne):
Umbrella, light, landscape, sky.
There is no language of the holy.
The sacred lies in the ordinary.