So much beauty in the world…and nothing to fear.

Copyright 2009, DreamWorks Studios

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.

About Malcolm W Campbell

Father. Husband. Writer. Teacher. Outdoorsperson. And something else... Forgetful?
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5 Responses to So much beauty in the world…and nothing to fear.

  1. Karen Martin says:

    What is this thing called “inspiration”? It’s like a yawn — triggering another yawn.
    Thank you! You just made me yawn. (hug)

    • Malcolm says:

      Hug back to you, Karen.

      You’re so right about yawns. There’s nothing more anthropological to me when one yawn in a class sets off four more in close proximity.

      I stop class and draw attention to the beauty of our species’ adaptability. Yawns spread, I share, as a warning that danger is nearby. I’m not sure if gazelles yawn when one of them senses a tiger crouched, every muscle poised to pounce, but they do have some domino response…

      Oh…when I say there is nothing to fear, I’m not including sabre-tooth tigers. Them suckers, I fear.)

      So when a pack of students yawn in unison, after my evolutionary riff on its meaning, I prove my point and announce, “POP QUIZ.”

      Then I say, “Psyche!”

      And they yawn again because that phrase lived and died before they were born.

      Thanks for saying hi!

  2. sheila ennis says:

    Wow! Thank you Malcolm for an inspiring piece and for making me want to write! I loved American Beauty too. Sheila

  3. sheila ennis says:

    forgot to check the box….

    • Malcolm says:

      Forgetting the box: Story of my life…except when it involves lengthy privacy explanations that, for all I know, demand that I rename myself Malcolm “Zuckerberg’s-da-Man” Campbell. You are special to me, Sheila. I sent an email to the educational foundation e-mail address. If you didn’t receive, I’ll send to another. Peace, mc

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