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"I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather my spark burn out in a brilliant blaze than be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy, permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time." ~Jack London

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Half Life

I stepped out of the front door into the still of morning. The moon greeted me with half a face, half a smile, as if to say, enjoy the bittersweet days while they last. She lay dead on the road before me.

Her wing shielded her head, and I wanted to believe that it was her final act on this earth, the way a human closes its eyes or a superhero covers itself with its cape. I wanted to believe that she had not fought or suffered, that she had simply wrapped herself into death, slowly, calmly.

I don’t know how she died, whether she had dropped from the sky or been hit by a car in passing, but she lay there, still and quiet as the dawn itself. I wished I had time to bury her, but instead I could only move her to the side where she wouldn’t be hit again, where she could remain in the same serene state I found her.

Her feathers trailed the street as I walked the few blocks to my car. Their grey softness danced quietly through the blackened street against the blackened sky. I thought of petals thrown by flower girls. I thought of orange leaves in fall. I thought of the way old movie stars glide through ballrooms with such precision and ease. I thought of how beautiful her ordinary feathers seemed after she was gone.

And I thought of what my feathery trail would look like after I was gone. If I were to add up all of the wasted time in my life – if I were to believe that there was such a thing as wasted time, that is – would it follow me? Was this her trail of feathers never used? A relationship never explored? A place never visited? A writing talent never developed to its full potential? Each feather that floated past me seemed to ignite some longing within me that I had yet to admit to myself.

And then the feathers stopped. And so did I. Dead in my tracks. I looked back up at the half moon watching me. I looked at the blackness beside where her other half would be. I decided each were beautiful, the space already glowing with silver divinity and the space left empty, the space burning with the potential of fullness. The feathers not yet used were as beautiful as those who still clung to her fallen wing.

Perhaps I am no different. Perhaps the space not yet filled will be the most beautiful of all. Perhaps being whole is not about being complete, but about being happy enough to leave room for possibility. The blank canvas of my life that is to come is just as full as the colorful tapestry of my life that I have already created. It just needs to be put in the right lighting.

Even if that lighting is the simple darkness of morning, where a dead bird glows with the passionate wildness of fire. Where a half moon looks down, and knowingly smiles her bittersweet half smile.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Happiness, In Its Purest Form

Sometimes I consider leaving everything. Sometimes I consider living in an isolated cabin in the woods for a year and do nothing but write. Sometimes I consider that happiness in its purest form: To live in the quiet, to wake each morning and walk out into a world where everything is just as it should be, just as nature intended; To have only my journals to speak to, and of course the birds, and trees, and grass; To create with all of the passion and determination that could flow from each of us were it not for the distractions of the everyday. Happiness, in its purest form.

I think of her washing her clothes in a basin on the street. I think of the three walls, the thatched roof, the blanket she calls her bed. I think of the way her home reminds me of the kind of dioramas I used to make in the fourth grade, one side cut off of the shoebox to see the life inside. I smile at the thought of the poster of Rocky hanging on her wall. I do not doubt the sorrow of her life, nor do I doubt the happiness of it. How she must love that poster, that shelter, those clothes she washes with such tenderness in the muck of public water.

What material thing could I possibly love with such fervor? How could my tongue possibly understand the richness of food without gratitude for it? What secrets does she know that I will never comprehend?

My first thought was that I wanted to save this woman from her life. I wanted to pick her up in my arms and hold her, tell her that everything would be okay, and mean it. I wanted to give her everything I had, from the money in my bank account to the shoes on my feet. I wanted to take her to the field of sunflowers I once walked through in France, to show her such priceless gold existed. But she probably already knew of such beauty. And while my first thought was that I wanted to save this woman from her life, my second thought was who would save me from mine?

Who would teach me to walk through fields of flowers, to navigate by the stars, to make my mind so clear that each pound of my feet upon the earth became a tiny miracle unto itself?

Slowly I am learning to listen to the rivers as they lap against the shore, to watch the sun rise each morning with all of the amazement and gratitude it deserves, to feel the depth of each color that emerges with the coming spring. Slowly I am teaching myself to save my own life. Perhaps it takes a lifetime to reach even the tip of understanding, but fortunately, a lifetime is exactly what I have.

I envy flowers for the way they rise and bloom in a moment of fiery exquisiteness before falling back to the earth, for ours is a much more difficult journey. We rise and fall again and again, each time with a better understanding of the cycle, with the knowledge that we will have time to try again. And I think because of that knowledge, I often dull the blossom with the subtle inklings that darkness will soon occur once more. I’ll have another chance at greatness, but meanwhile, I’m passing it by. Flowers don’t have such regret.

And so I left her there on the street, washing herself clean. I left her there, beautiful flower, soaking her roots in life. Happiness, in its purest form.