I love transformation stories.
A Prince becomes a Beast and then, thanks to the love of a beautiful stranger, becomes a Prince again.
A poor ragged orphan girl, despite her evil stepsisters and thanks to her Fairy Godmother, becomes a princess.
A geeky copy editor gets a second chance at high school and becomes prom Queen.
A Manhattan maid becomes… well dressed for an evening? I’ll be honest; I can’t really remember the story line for that one. But she transforms and it’s magical.
And of course, we can’t forget every movie that stars Anne Hathaway.
What is it about these tales that captures me? These stories are told over and over again, in thousands of different ways, but essentially it’s the same storyline… And I fall for it every time!
“The reason stories have dramatic tension is because LIFE has dramatic tension.”
Good stories and good lives have a lot in common. They both require tension, bravery, and usually end with a grand transformation. We root for main characters that have gone through hell, who have experienced the stories tension to its’ fullest, and we bask in all the glory of their transformation. Why wouldn’t we? They have earned it!
The Transformation of Suffering
In “real life” transformation does not happen as easily as it does in these stories. Suffering does not change into something beautiful overnight… it is no Anne Hathaway! The tension that is experienced in life typically lasts a lot longer, and I know few people who can pin point the very moment of their transformation. In our own lives we have no singing mice, no fairy godmothers, and no Julie Andrews’ to signal our stories climax.
In movies and storybooks there is a clear order: suffering comes, transformation happens, and then beauty arrives. In life it is different. We often experience beauty and suffering together.
I think that is where real life transformation comes from, learning how to let beauty in when you’re suffering.
Let Beauty In
This Friday is the five-year anniversary of my dad’s death. My dad had suffered a stroke about a year prior to his death that left one side of his body paralyzed and confined him to a hospital bed. These past few days I have been thinking a lot about how that season transformed me. How the quiet moments of suffering were often the ones that carried the most beauty.
My dad loved music, and he loved to sing; something we had in common. However, the stroke he endured impaired his speech and made speaking (and of course singing) a challenging task. The doctor told him that he should practice smiling because it would help him build back up the muscles in his face, but dad refused. “What do I have to smile about?” he’d say, to which I would tell him to stop being such a grumpy old man, and that kind of banter would go on for a while. So I decided since verbal abuse didn’t seem to work on him, I would do the next best thing. I would sing Sinatra songs while effectively messing up all the lyrics.
“Come on Ashley, I’ve raised you better than this. You know the words to “Fly me to the Moon.”
“No! I genuinely believe that it goes, ‘Fly me over the moon.”
“No! It goes like this…”
Then he would continue to serenade me, and everyone else in the room. Stroke or not, he still sounded beautiful.
“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.”
I feel that there is no better way to conclude than with this poem/prayer by Rainer Maria Rilke.
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
Then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
Go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going.
No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours, I 59 (Emphasis added)