Collateral Beauty


(Photo taken of St. Peter’s Cemetery in Salzburg, Austria)

Collateral Damage = injury inflicted on something other than an intended target

It is easy for us to wrap our minds around the concept that if something bad or tragic happens in our lives there will be consequences, like the ripples of a pond, that will radiate out from that solitary event. For example, after my husband’s death, we felt these repercussions or ripples from the tragedy and the loss. Some of us could no longer sleep alone. Isolation could not be tolerated; the need for contact 24/7 became a necessity. Any stress would cause others to shut down, unable to deal with emotions, letting anxiety and panic wash over and paralyze. Not only were we dealing with an incredible loss in our lives, but this loss had radiated collateral damage across our family. All of these issues are understandable and a bit of collateral damage is expected in a situation like ours.

Collateral Damage is expected.

However, we never expect or anticipate the opposite to occur. If you look up antonyms for damage you will find words such as benefit, blessing, goodness and beauty. For every down there is an up. For every yin there is a yang. For every darkness there is a light. For all damage there is beauty.

I recently became aware of the term Collateral Beauty on my return flight home from Switzerland last week. Long flights and movies go hand in hand. My daughter actually calculated how many movies she would be able to watch on this flight as we waited to board, 5 movies! That number made me squirm a bit as a parent, realizing that her excitement translated into almost 12 hours of staring at a screen. However, I made peace with the idea that I was a captive audience for the duration of our flight, and I began to realize the opportunity I had been granted to view a movie that was neither animated nor based on a super hero.

“Collateral Beauty” with Will Smith caught my eye because of the juxtaposition of the title to my current life living with collateral damage.  Please do not take this as an endorsement of the movie. It was entertaining enough, but the plot and character development was lacking and the point of the movie probably would have fallen short for most viewers.

I love the poetic idea that God sends you messages on the wings of a butterfly or whispers them in the wind. For me, God frequently has to yell his messages, spread them across a neon billboard. Pay attention Rory! This is important!

Will Smith’s character loses his daughter. She dies and he is left in a severe state of depression. He cannot function in his personal or professional life and loses both his wife and his career. He is visited by characters depicting Love, Time and Death. These visits initially seem to push him further away from reality, but in the end bring him back to a bit more stable and rational place. Not fully healed from his loss, we get the sense at the end that there is hope.

Here is where it hits close to home for me.  Not only can I identify with the idea of collateral damage and the destruction of a man’s life due to his tragic loss, but at the end of the movie Will Smith’s character is confronted by the fact that his daughter died of a “rare cancer”…wait for it…”called Glioblastoma Multiforme, otherwise known as GBM”. This line does not occur just once in the movie, but is repeated about five times in a row, both snapping the main character back into reality and me as the viewer to attention. This rare cancer is what killed my husband over four years ago.

Again, God plastered his message flashing on jumbovision. “This part is important. Listen up!”

The woman, who snaps Will Smith back into the present by repeating the line above, proceeds to explain that she was approached by a person (the character we know as Death) in the hospital who asked her, if she was expecting someone to pass (or die). As the woman concludes her brief conversation with Death in the hospital, Death asks the woman to look for the Collateral Beauty in the situation.

Beauty in the face of death. Beauty that will ripple outward from a tragic incident. Beauty that will affect or influence something other than the intended target. Beauty in the Brokenness.

If someone had asked me five years ago if I would be a school librarian, I would have scoffed and said that was unlikely. If someone had asked me five years ago if I would lead 50 people through Europe, I would be rolling on the floor in a fit of laughter. “Impossible”, I would have replied.

I tolerated travel with my late husband, who loved it. I worried over each detail, making sure nothing could go wrong, not letting much to chance, keeping control over all the plans. I had anxiety over what to eat, what to pack, how to communicate, etc. Travel was not a relaxing event.

However, as I sat in the plane returning from our trip to Europe, where I had coordinated the travel of 50 other people, watching the movie, tears streaming down my face, I realized the Collateral Beauty of the moment.

This trip never would have happened. I would not have shed the anxiety and fear of not having total control. I would not have grown my patience, faith and inner strength in the same way, if my husband had not died. Collateral Beauty.

I would not have had the chance to lead two women who had just lost their husbands this past year and two others who had recently gone through the loss of divorce, giving them the opportunity to travel with their families to places they never thought they could see on their own. Showing them that life still has so much beauty in store for them despite the tragic loss they experienced. Collateral Beauty.

My children would not have experienced the magnificent sites of Vienna, the deep history of Salzburg, the unique culture of Munich, and the natural splendor of the Swiss Alps. Collateral Beauty.

Along with damage comes beauty. We have to pay attention. Sometimes we have to look deep. Sometimes we might have to wait for it. It could appear in the most unexpected ways. Tragedy shapes us, but the beauty that comes from it sustains us, gives us hope and allows us to thrive.

Thank you God. Message received.



6 thoughts on “Collateral Beauty

  1. I can’t even begin. I am speechless. This is beyond beautiful and amazing. I find strength in your words and know what you share here Is more powerful than I can explain. Love you and so proud of you cousin.
    -love Jaime

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Thank you, God, indeed. What a gift you have … not just the artful flow of your pen as you navigate such heartbreaking circumstances, but the gentle encouragement to all of us to consider potential “beauty” in our loss-you touched a heartstring in me this morning that unleashed the floodgates-I could hardly see the last 2 paragraphs thru my tears. First, surprised by it and glad my kids aren’t awake yet (lol) but then a sense of real joy that I can even feel. “Thank you God” indeed!


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