By Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis
This Week at Plymouth, October 20
“And even though it’s hard to see the glass is full and not half empty. I thank you for the air to breathe, the heart to beat, the eyes to see again . . . a thousand beautiful things. And all the things that’s been and done, the battle’s won, the good and bad in everyone . . . This is mine to remember” —Annie Lennox, “A Thousand Beautiful Things.”
During a morning of half listening to breaking news about bombings in Gaza and the chaos in the halls of Congress and praying for a word that can break through imperial silence, indifference, and complacency in response to poverty, livable wages, food and housing insecurity, and lack of access to affordable health care, the weight of emotional and theological hopelessness threatened the beauty of sabbath rest and beloved dinner time with friends. I could feel myself suffocating under the heaviness of it all. But just before total desperation set in, the prophetic utterances of the incomparable Annie Lennox lifted a corner of that claustrophobic heaviness and helped me see my way through. Coming through my earphones from a long ago-created playlist I don’t remember assembling was her singing about seeing “a thousand beautiful things” in the world, even amid sadness and darkness.
I suspect that in times of war, tragedy, sickness, or death, we wonder if we are allowed to experience joy or notice beauty. We are afraid that any display of levity or lightheartedness disrespects the gravity of pain and suffering. Ironically, I learned from the activists and organizers of rallies, protests, and demonstrations after the killing of George Floyd that we should not postpone joy. So, over the last few weeks, I’ve been hugging my family and friends closer, surrendering to the melodic beauty of music more willingly, and pausing to pay attention a little more to the sky, leaves, and neighborhood pets—a thousand beautiful things.
Later, when asked about the song, Lennox talked about this song arising out of a dark period in her life when she realized that “beauty is everywhere… in a sunrise, a drop of dew, the warm breath of a child, or a flower opening. That is the sacred gift of life, even if we don’t always acknowledge it.” So, it’s okay to be alive to everything happening: beauty, grotesqueness, pleasure, and pain. We can feel the full weight of life’s heaviness with the confidence that there can still be moments of ease, love, and laughter. It’s remembering what can be even when what is seems interminably desperate and hopeless. As I look at the courtyard out my church office window, I notice the trees, plants, and bushes are preparing to yield up their color, petals, branches, and leaves for winter to take her turn to display her beauty in snow and ice. And it’s good and beautiful. This is mine to remember.