“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.” The words belong to poet Rainer Rilke. I want terribly to live them.
But I suspect it is a conviction very few of us allow ourselves to experience. I wonder if it is because we may sometimes fear beauty as much as terror. Perhaps we avoid both when we are unable to discern one from the other. And perhaps that is the trick of it all, exactly what Rilke hoped we would realize. That they can be, at times, bound together – beauty and terror happening as one.
For as long as I have known this poem, I always understood this phrase to be meant as two extremes of experiences – the beautiful and the terrorizing. Only recently have I come to embrace the potential entwinement of the two – to understand how they each might enhance the other, like flavors blended and baked within a single dish.
Not surprisingly, I learned this from a dog. Quincy. My current live-in wiseman life coach. A 9-year-old mixed-breed hound, as smelly as he is sincere. His outward courage is small, but packaged well within loud barks. Yet he is uncommonly brave when it comes to confronting the needs of the heart. He is not afraid of grief. He does not step back from another’s pain, or look away from the eyes of loneliness. For broken spirits, he is an inherent first-responder. He walks into the wreckage with unhesitating intentionality.
Quincy sees the beauty of the terror. He will transform a trembling touch into a connection. He will find within rejection an invitation to sit patiently nearby. He will nuzzle through layers of doubt to uncover the pride of surviving. He seems to interpret weakness as strength that is simply resting – until it becomes strong again, and able to throw the ball even higher the next time. Or the next. Or the next.
To Quincy, I sense that fear is an opportunity to hold hands and run away together as fast as you can, and fall down laughing very hard. Sadness is the power to remember, with the possibility to forgive, even without forgetting. Broken bits and jagged edges are so much more interesting to him than smooth hard surfaces – with textures to explore and frequently admire and to never get tired of.
The Rilke poem goes on to counsel us: “Just keep going. No feeling is final.” It strikes me that these lines, too, are lessons observed from Quincy. Despite his age, he came to live with me not long ago. I don’t know the tangles he may have come through before he got to me, but he always kept going. He somehow knew the terror of being lost carried with it the beauty of being found. And just recently, he experienced the feeling of release from being leashed on our walks together down quiet paths and now familiar routes. The former constraint served as prelude to the new joy of freedom earned. He understood and embraced the trust immediately.
And now released, he strays very little from my side. There is an occasional lagging behind to check in with friendly cats. Or a pause to gaze down the length of the driveway of a house where we once returned a wayward dog. And there are two unfailing and deliberate stops he insists upon making at two different doorsteps where people live alone and are sometimes in need of cheering.
“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.” I find this thought tremendously compelling – full of freedom and possibilities and grace. I want to experience it. To explore it … walk barefoot through it … sit and visit with it long into the night. And I want to delight in the strands of beauty woven throughout every terror, and honor the beads of fear caught within every beautiful thing. And I want to appreciate the connectedness of it all.
According to Quincy, this is where all the interesting things are after all. And I suspect it’s where all the best truth lives as well.