Writer’s Statement: On Beauty by Wally Swist

My partner described her semi-wakefulness this morning as her finding contentment in integrating the events of her life over the past year and more and discovering that everything fit together. The noted mythologist and expert of comparative religion Joseph Campbell describes a similar experience—during those times when we seem to have an overview of our lives, when we view them as a tapestry that has been woven together of apparently disparate events but which we can now see as exhibiting a pattern. This is beautiful.

Beauty is unique in that it can be seen in all of its many facets. The 2015 film The Fencer, which was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for the Best Foreign Language film and a Jussi Award for the Best Foreign Actor for Märt Avandi’s fine performance in portraying the story of Estonian fencer, Endel Nelis, exhibits such beauty. It is a story, as all of our lives are, of what Joseph Campbell terms the hero’s journey. There is beauty in this, too, since we all leave who we once were and voyage out beyond ourselves, often in a circular journey, whereupon we eventually return home. However, return is never what we thought it might be, since we have been changed, even if those awaiting our return—as do the children the fencing teacher coached and the woman he loved, who steadfastly waited for him—meet us at the train station to welcome our homecoming.

Homecomings are naturally beautiful. We leave and return home daily. However, sometimes we return back to ourselves to find that we have come through either a dark night, with its intrinsic process of rebirth, or through an entirely different type of process, if we have rigorously kept to whatever spiritual practices we may have maintained and have been graced by either an awakening or even angelic visitation. Such experiences are only the beginning of seeing beauty in all of its many facets. Such experiences are often thought of as being ultimate and final encounters with the sacred and the divine; however, they truly indicate that these same experiences, which are, indeed, breakthroughs, are limitless. There are as many opportunities to experience awakening and to be graced by visitations as there are stars in the sky.

Love and beauty are limitless. We can view the tapestry of our lives and begin to understand how we are connected to it as well as how that same tapestry is connected to the tapestry of everyone else. Our courage in this is not only to be exemplified by The Fencer’s diminutive Marta, a student of Endel Nelis, who is pressed into competing with a much larger and older male fencer in the national fencing finals, but also by Nelis himself, who had an opportunity to escape but chose to lovingly coach Marta on the sidelines instead of opting for a false and empty freedom.

Considering our lives and seeing how all of what transpires in them fits while lying awake in the darkness before dawn is active grace. Moments such as these provide us with sustenance and nurture us. These moments are beautiful—as we return home either outwardly or within ourselves, especially when we find that we are filled incontrovertibly with a light that newly illuminates not only our own lives but the lives of others we know and meet on the way.

Wally Swist’s recent books include The Map of Eternity (Shanti Arts, 2018), Singing for Nothing: Selected Nonfiction as Literary Memoir (The Operating System, 2018), and On Beauty: Essays, Reviews, Fiction, and Plays (Adelaide Books, 2018). His book A Bird Who Seems to Know Me: Poems Regarding Birds & Nature was the winner of the 2018 Ex Ophidia Press Poetry Prize and published in 2019. His other books include The Bees of the Invisible (2019) and Evanescence: Selected and New Poems (2020), also from Shanti Arts of Brunswick, Maine.

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