Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What Beautiful Is

There is a stay-at-home dad I know who is funny and kind and gracious in conversation. He loves his two young daughters immensely. He writes about birds and trees in a large pad which he keeps in his back pocket at every playgroup. He also suffers from debilitating mental attacks and sometimes struggles deeply and intensely to cope with life and move forward.

This morning, I saw him. The man's smile could swallow an entire street. His youngest daughter walked beside him, her smile echoing his.

The great South African poet Dennis Brutus--who fought against the apartheid system and was even jailed at Robben Island in the cell next to Mandela's for his work--has two of the most beautiful lines I've ever read within his poem, "Somehow We Survive." Brutus writes, "Somehow we survive / and tenderness, frustrated, does not wither." 

To think of the horror Brutus watched unfold in his lifetime--both that subjected to others and to himself--and yet to still be able to write these lines. To still be able to claim the survival of tenderness, the endurance of beauty.

Many of us face attacks that come in all forms and circumstances. If you're reading this, then most likely you and I are similar in that we do not face imprisonment for our beliefs and our quests for justice like Brutus did. And yet, the battles my friend, the stay-at-home-dad, faces threaten also to wither tenderness.

And each of us experiences, perhaps a thousand times a day, the subtle assaults from both within and without that long to make us believe that tenderness withers. Beauty is not sustained.

And that is true if we allow for the world's definition of beauty. If we assent to the notion that beauty is perfection, that tenderness is only possible where no mistakes are made, then we're sunk.

But if we, like Brutus, are willing to fight back against injustice in small ways and large, then we begin to forge a claim on the definition of beauty, the true meaning of tenderness.

What Beautiful is appears after attacks have been mounted and weathered. Rather than throw our hands up in despair and rage, then, we open our hands in readiness--willing the future to be different from the past. Knowing the present is our only genre for writing new stories, we learn to smile wide enough to swallow a street. We learn that tenderness may be frustrated, but it does not wither. True beauty never can.

by Dennis Brutus

Somehow we survive
and tenderness, frustrated, does not wither.

Investigating searchlights rake
our naked unprotected contours;

over our heads the monolithic decalogue
of fascist prohibition glowers
and teeters for a catastrophic fall;

boots club the peeling door.

But somehow we survive
severance, deprivation, loss.

Patrols uncoil along the asphalt dark
hissing their menace to our lives,

most cruel, all our land is scarred with terror,
rendered unlovely and unloveable;
sundered are we and all our passionate surrender

but somehow tenderness survives.