After Dad died, Caroline sent me an article that has since become an ideological refuge in hard times. I can relate to, I can recognize, and I have found peace in the "terrible beauty" Mary Schmich so honestly and humbly describes. And, I've shared the article, first published in the Chicago Tribune in November, 2010, on here before. Sometimes, however, it seems appropriate to revisit.
Love to the entire Kraft family.
"Even the terrible things," she said, on a sunny day in what would be her last September, "seem beautiful to me now."
I rarely saw my mother cry, despite the many reasons she might have, but on that afternoon in her backyard, she cried a little, tears that I sensed were equally for the beauty and the sorrow in her life, and for the recognition that, when it's all done, beauty and sorrow are one and the same.
Even the terrible things seem beautiful to me now.
What she was saying that day, I think, was that it's all life. The things that hurt your heart, wound your pride, drain your hope, leave you lost, confuse you to the point of madness. That's life, life with its endless, shifting sensations and its appalling urgency and its relentless drive toward mystery.
What could be better than that? What could you be more thankful for than that?
At Thanksgiving there's a lot of talk about gratitude, a word that has been so merchandized — on calendars and coffee mugs and in self-help manuals — that when you hear it you may want to reach for the hand sanitizer to wipe away the goo.
In the commercial version of gratitude, life is filled with cozy meals, cozy weather, friends and relations who smother each other in hugs and greeting cards. To the extent that hard times figure in, it's only once they've been vanquished and can be toasted farewell with a glass of premium wine facing a perfect sunset.
It's easy to be grateful for such easy pleasures. Who can complain about cozy meals and friends who put up with your annoying behaviors?
But to see the beauty in the terrible things and to be grateful for those moments — that's an elusive art.
I think you have to be old to see how beautiful the terrible things are, my mother said that afternoon, and I suspect she's right.
Maybe we can't see the beauty in the terrible things until we're approaching the final beauty and terror. In other words, death: the ultimate proportion gauge.
Maybe only when you take your last step back from the canvas can you see how gorgeous all those wrong strokes and smudges look when viewed together.
All of the best times in my life have grown directly out of the worst times. What feels like manure often turns out to be fertilizer.
But what I took from my mother's remark wasn't just that good may grow out of bad. It's that the bad is its own beauty.
We all resist what's difficult and painful. We run from it. We curse it. It comes anyway, as inevitable as weather.
Most of us have gone through at least one time in our lives that we would call terrible. Everyone I know well certainly has.
A disease. A rape. A parent's suicide. The death of someone you love. The collapse of a dream. These are things you would never wish on anyone, just as I would never have wished for my mother some of what befell her.
But as we approach Thanksgiving, I'm more grateful than ever to her for the ways she helped everyone around her understand that the hard times make you whole. They make you play the entire keyboard. They allow you to experience the full range of the most basic thing we give thanks for: being alive.