Collateral Beauty is the name of a not-very-good-despite-the-cast movie, but I am nevertheless intrigued by the title. Most of us, I think, are familiar with the phrase “collateral damage,” referring to such things as accidental civilian casualties in a military operation, side effects for medications, or perhaps tooth decay as an unintended consequence of eating too many sweets.
In the movie, the main character (played by Will Smith), following the death of his daughter, learns profoundly obvious lessons about Love, Death and Time. Not much, as I recall, about Beauty. I’m more interested in the way an appreciation of beauty can be triggered as a collateral reward to getting old.
Here’s what Shakespeare thought about it:
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
Forget, for a moment that he was only 33 when he wrote it. He’s saying, “I’m gettin’ old, baby, so you better love me now, before I’m gone.” But let’s turn the camera around: If the speaker is getting old, he’d better “love that well which thou [or he] must leave ere long.” The love that he experiences is collateral beauty, a side effect of aging.
In other words, pay attention, and appreciate, while we can. We can look where “yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang,” and maybe even take a photo.
|Me with Yellow-Leaf Age-Mates|
And we can capture where the sweet birds sang:
|Rose-breasted Grosbeak, singing "Thanks for loading the feeders."|
|Stunned by the Beauty of Fallen Leaves and Birdseed|
We don’t see “sunset fadeth in the west” because our view is to the east,
but the sunsets can still be spectacular.
Is the world more beautiful because it is collateral to our getting old?
Is our love more appreciative?
I think so. Thus: collateral beauty.