By Sheryl Aronson
Who believes in miracles? Who believes in the collateral beauty of life? On Christmas Eve and the first night of Hanukkah, what a perfect topic to ponder.
Both sacred holidays… both celebrate miracles.
Hanukkah: after the forces of Antiochus IV had been driven from the Temple, the Maccabees discovered that almost all of the ritual olive oil had been profaned. They found only a single container that was still sealed by the High Priest, with enough oil to keep the menorah in the Temple lit for a single day. They used this, yet it burned for eight days. The miracle.
Christmas: Jesus is born in Bethlehem to a virgin mother. The angels proclaimed him a savior for all people. The miracle.
I believe in miracles. I believe in the collateral beauty of life. I loved this movie. It was panned by the critics and movie goers for being schmaltzy, a waste of talent, manipulative. So be it. I say, the movie dares to speak about what is beyond our comprehension of everyday reality, what beckons for our attention, but we are too cynical/suspicious/mistrustful perhaps to pay attention, what as humans we intuitively hope is true, but just can’t seem to believe.
There is a scene in the movie where a grieving mother sits on a bench outside her dying daughter’s hospital room. Tears stream down her face, she seems inconsolable. Another woman sits next to her and asks, ‘What is wrong?’ When the mother tells the woman her daughter is dying, the woman says, ‘Remember, always see the collateral beauty of life.’ At that moment the pain-stricken mother doesn’t understand what this means…the tragedy of her circumstances have darkened her world. The movie reveals the meaning through connections…synchronicity…through miracles.
I had known the collateral beauty of life and felt so blessed for many years, until I entered the darkest Hades of my existence. I wrote in the forward to my Memoir, Passing Myself Down to the Grave, A Woman’s Rise from Darkness:
“Twelve years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Up to this point, I had been the poster girl for health, optimism, playfulness, adventure, and lived in the light of pursuing and attaining my dreams. My spirit throughout my life soared above the clouds of limitation, fighting off obstacles and fears in my path daring to stop me. I tucked away any hints of pain, or sorrowful events, ignoring their icy footprints frozen on my psyche. As I turned 48, prepared to fight the disease of cancer, these footprints melted rapidly into a pool of depression. The portal to the grave opened. I walked inside completely unaware of my dissent into the Hades of my existence.
My journey back into LIFE occurred by passing through what I call “12 years of Despair.” During this time, I never believed I could burst out of the pool of hope ever again, and breathe the sweet air of life’s pleasures. Death beckoned with the aplomb of knowing its victim was ready to succumb. Down…down…I fell, dragging a black cloak over my sweet spirit, suffocating all character traits familiar to me. I no longer recognized myself. The Sheryl I knew had passed away.”
Here’s what happened to me. The all- pervasive darkness that had entered my soul began to lift… slowly, gently, which baffled me. However, I paid attention, not really believing my good fortune. And then, so subtle, so minutely, I began to reconnect with my lost self, with the little moments of what had made me happy before. Then, one day, on a walk back from the beach (which I had stopped doing during the 12 years of despair) I looked around at the gorgeous scenery, felt my heart fill with incredible joy of being alive, and realized the collateral beauty of existence. I was happy for no other reason than being in the middle of that moment… the realization, the visceral experience of existing, the synchronicity of all those moments converging in my spirit, in the recognition of this miracle simply filling me up with so much appreciation and happiness. I was overcome with tears.
It happened again, when I visited my son in Boston. I hadn’t been on a plane by myself in 12 years. I had been petrified to travel anywhere by myself. However, I decided to make the trip back to the city of my young adulthood where my son now went to college. I was just coming out of a severe depression that had lasted for 12 years, mind you. Here’s what happened. I decided to take a midnight walk to the Boston Commons, which was near my hotel. As I strolled through the streets of Boston…the memories of being a college student flooded my being, memories of being a free spirit, an adventurer, a risk taker, a lover of jazz, all passed through me. I remembered my origins, my core. Like an apparition, or a divine metaphor from above, I came upon a lone sax player blowing his horn. He stood on a bridge that overlooked the duck pond, playing into the night. I was his only audience. As I listened to the music, once again my whole being felt overwhelmed by the collateral beauty of life… as if I had come full circle after 40 years.
So many miracles have happened to me that I REFUSE TO CALL THEM COINCIDENCES: like when feathers began to appear everywhere after my cousin died, and still do until present day; like when I told myself I wanted to become a professional writer in my early twenties, had no experience, and choosing to write r an article on a young girl jazz drummer, Terri Lyne Carrington, who I had just read about in Ebony Magazine, but had no idea how to get in touch with her because I lived in the 1970’s, before the internet etc… then a week later, she and her father walk into the jazz club I was in, I asked her father if I could interview her, and this became my first published article; like when my car did a 360 degree turn on the 5 freeway at 10 pm at night, recently, sliding across all the lanes, knowing I was going to die or get into the worst accident of my life, and then my car ends up on the side of the road hitting nothing; (and this exact same incident occurred when I was a teen-ager driving my parents car on the Long Island turnpike, it spun around 360 and I knew I was going to be in a terrible accident, but I hit no one.);like finishing a chapter of my Memoir on chemotherapy, going to Laguna Beach for a respite, sitting at a café and conversing with two gentlemen next to me…finding out that one of the men is an Oncologist, and not only that, he worked in the same office as the Oncologist that had treated me, and his partner was the person who had decorated the office I had just described in my chapter…those are just a few of the numerous blessings granted to me.
Why am I writing about this? In hopes that all of you allow the collateral beauty of your life to bless you and bring you peace and happiness that is your God given right. For all its Hallmark, schmaltzy, perhaps cliché writing…the film Collateral Beauty touches upon a very important topic that gets bad press because it’s too hard to believe. It’s too simple. It’s so true. It’s what sparkles in our imaginations this time of Year…magic, miracles, hope, something other than the stark reality of everyday living.
Why shouldn’t we see, touch, feel what is beyond?
I hope everyone can open up to the collateral beauty of this Holiday Season and take your families to see Collateral Beauty.
MERRY CHRISTMAS & HAPPY HANUKKAH!