Last weekend I watched the film Collateral Beauty with my husband Steve, aside from being awed by the concept of the film and it’s core message it really got me thinking about what we’ve witnessed this past 10 months. The film focuses around three abstractions, Love, Time, and Death. As the central character, Howard, explains right at the beginning of the film, we long for love, we wish we had more time and we fear death.
I realised that since the beginning of 2020 I’ve been increasingly living in a world that focused on me and mine and I had forgotten about the world I had previously inhabited which was more us and ours. As the months have dragged on and with no apparent end in sight for a return to any sort of normal, I along with many others have been drawing inwards ever more deeply, trying to forget that the world outside exists, or at least hoping it won’t impinge in any meaningful way. Although I had love in my life, I feared losing it. I was worried about time passing and things getting no better and I began (for the first time in a long time) to fear death. In other words, I was now living in fear of the three great abstractions.
I’ve found myself talking about being insular and wondering how to protect myself and those I care about from an invisible malaise that presents itself not just as a pandemic but also in the rhetoric of politics and isolationism. And in watching the film I had to acknowledge I had become part of the problem.
I’d forgotten the basic truth that we are all one, that what affects one affects us all, and that what we’re witnessing right now is an extreme effect of what’s often called the butterfly effect. As events unfold around us we react in ways that we hope will insulate or protect us in some way because we think we can gain some measure of control over them. ‘If I lock the doors, slam the bolts shut and keep the world out, I’ll be safe’, or so our mind tells us. And yet we forget that we may lock ourselves into a fire, a flood, a famine. Life, as I keep thinking about it, has it’s own agenda and it constantly demonstrates how little control we have over anything.
Earlier today I was out walking the Beeble and Pip with Steve. We popped into our local cafe for a takeaway coffee only to be told that some we know had died suddenly of a heart attack whilst driving into the village. And it is these seemingly random happenings that demonstrate time and again the lack of control we have.
So, perhaps it’s time to embrace the collateral beauty of a world that holds both the horrific and the happy, that acknowledges being alive means living with uncertainty. As I pondered all these things I began noticing other, different things around me. I noticed how my heart opens when I am struck by another’s suffering and how I want to help and as a result the actions I take. I noticed that I feel vulnerable, but that allows me to see something of the vulnerability of the world around me and I feel even more moved to do what I can to show loving kindness to the world at large. Whether I do that with the environment, our animal and plant kingdom or those people who have less or are suffering, I’ve discovered compassion is a small price to pay for opening my heart again.
In this new found sense of being I acknowledge that bad things still happen, love doesn’t change circumstances. It does however make them easier to bear. And it means that collectively we begin to move in a different direction, slowly at first but with gathering momentum. I’ve regained my sense of love and of being loved, not just by my family (and dogs!) but by the wider world who have opened their arms and are happier to connect; I no longer worry about time as I know I have all the time in the world just as long as I focus on the present moment and don’t wander off into a future I cannot predict; and once again I no longer fear death. And for the first time in a long year I feel hopeful that everyone and everything will benefit from the change we’ve started creating.