Pretty things are not always meant to keep

by Today Letter

Photo by Becca Romine on Unsplash

I am looking for buds on branches, pinpricks of leaves, scanning for signs of crocuses and tulips and daffodils as their blades pierce through the crust of winter. Perhaps I am looking for that same piercing under my own skin; happy portents of a dark and lonesome winter cracking open like a seed into the light and breath of spring. 

I am thinking about cocoons. Chrysalises. I am thinking about the initials of my name and how they echo back to my mother’s. I am thinking about what I can build with these hands, sculpt with these fingers, warm with these palms. I am thinking about how much I love the ache that comes with hard work, whether through brawn or brain or, oftentimes, both. I am thinking about endings and beginnings. I am thinking about evolution. I am thinking about selection and sex and parentage.

I am looking at pictures of myself from six years ago and wondering what has changed—like a puzzle that compels you to find the barely discernible differences between two seemingly identical images.

Loss will make ribbons of you. We untangle them only to leave them in piles, to be sent to decompose with the rest of our refuse. Pretty things are not always meant to keep.

We know that it is easy to idolize the past, along with whatever version of youth came before. But when I look at those frozen moments and begin to bow, I remember that beneath the softness and sprawl of a younger self, the only piece of me in those pictures I recognized as mine was a heart so torn I worried I would have to throw it out. Loss will make ribbons of you; and while some messes can be twirled and fluffed to look pretty for a time, their usefulness is short-lived. We untangle them only to leave them in piles, to be sent to decompose with the rest of our refuse. Pretty things are not always meant to keep.

Reminding myself of the agonies beneath all of those apparent ecstasies helps to appreciate a passage of time I don’t always want to acknowledge, but it also stirs fear. Once you encounter certain pains, you are made aware of their lifecycles. You understand the likelihood of meeting them again. You may have swung back into the light, into spring, toward the sun, but the same transport that carried you here will cut back through the horizon, the pendulum will swing you again into the dark. What horrors lie in wait?

But then I look up, out the window to where I am watching for buds and pinpricks and blades, and then to the loose shades of green and purple and yellow that scatter around my room like dabs of paint. I notice that the vine stretching behind me has grown, even in these past few hours, and I am reminded of the living. There is some comfort in knowing that no matter what may end in your life—either cease to exist or pause indefinitely—that even when life itself concludes, it is not so everywhere. Shrouding that stillness is a cacophony of growth, of cells multiplying, expanding. Somewhere, always, there is birth, and all of the beauty and delight it deserves.

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