I had never watched American Beauty until my sophomore year of college. Sure, I remember the posters outside the movie theater in Greece. A rose petal, a belly button, a big bold R rating to indicate that rose petals and belly buttons were not the stuff of 13-year-old Greek girls. At the time, the suggestiveness evaded me. I simply thought rose petals looked right on girls’ bellies in the same way that linen pants look right on summer nights.
October of sophomore year of college found me on a friend’s couch. It was one of those couches that belonged to a friend of my friend’s and to that friend’s older brother and to his girlfriend – one of those couches that have gone to college with everyone and on which you sit with the acknowledgement that you will absorb some of the odor of sweat, beer and love. American Beauty seemed a little extra seedy in that setting.
Years later, the perversion of the movie and the odor of the couch have both faded. There is one line from it that has not. Lester Burnham muses:
It’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life… You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry… you will someday.
There was nothing soothing about American Beauty other than that disclaimer. Years later, I’m starting to get an idea of what Lester Burnham was talking about.
I do not know if it is possible to be around the glass creations creations by Dale Chihuly and not be mindful of one’s own fragility. I have been thinking about the life steps I am trembling too much to embrace securely. This glass is alive and speaks to me in a way that inspires leaps of faith, as did the kindred spirit whose heart skipped next to mine at the sight of all the wonder. My friend and I glided through the rest of the museum, with the other exhibits being secondary characters to the fairy tale in which we were floating. We talked about photography and art and poetry and writing and sharing and other stuff as dreams are made on. We talked about processing and choosing and deciding, we laughed, we reminisced. We talked about the trauma of conflict, of loss and of heartbreak. We reveled in unbridled joy. There was no room for groundedness last night. She and I needed to float. As Lester Burnham would have it, our hearts filled up like balloons that were about to burst.
There was no bursting or breaking last night. We simply walked along one another and let the vulnerability flow through the cracks.