A beam of sunlight filters in through an open window of a room bathed in shadow. The air is still. In the ray of light, dust particles bounce off of one another, illuminated. The fine concentration of light is filled with tiny, radiant specs that are suspended in space, and yet, in motion: floating, shimmering, tumbling together, touching, separating, touching once more.
The physics of it does not matter. The dust-air interaction does not matter. Brownian motion does not matter. Lucretius’ remarkable vision poem of atoms randomly moving in an infinite universe does not matter. Nor does Einstein’s explanation of it. Here’s what matters: You can see it. It is the dust of the world, dazzling in the light.
This is your whole life, right here, right now, contained and elevated, in the ephemeral ray of light pouring in. And you tell yourself: this is the dust of me, the dust around me, what I breathe in, what I breathe out. The dust is filled with thoughts, memories. Mine, yours. Dust from old books. Dust of letters I’ve opened, of papers torn. Dust from my son’s drawings. Dust from cars as their tires leave behind bits of journeys that float through my window, into the beam. Dust of a tissue from my mother’s purse. Dust of my cats, here, and then not here, alive in an eternal way, I suppose, luminous in this narrow beam. Tears evaporate and find their way into the shining zig zag motion. Cherish what you have, and what you have lost. Look for it all, shimmering and tumbling, as dust particles in a shaft of light.
I see it, a story told in the ephemeral nature of color. It’s impossible not to look, but I close my eyes, and listen. It’s the sound of change. Autumn calling out in its rustling and rain of leaves when the wind blows. I want to remember it. Not just see it, but feel it. On a fall day enveloped in grey mist, a flash of red leaves will interrupt the fog, burning through the space. On a brighter autumn day, sunshine moving through the leaves is as illuminating as enlightenment.
Change is forever our status. Fluidity in time and space, the flow of the circle. We don’t think about change, but sometimes something shakes you into awareness: a birth, a death, or the brief and brilliant leaves coming loose from their branches.
This is part of the cyclical design. Trees are actively cutting off their leaves in a survival process: abscission. As days of autumn fade into cold temps and less sunlight, trees reabsorb nutrients from their leaves. This includes chlorophyll and deprived of it, leafy greenness gives way to color. The leaf shedding allows trees to pull in energy and get through winter. It is a cycle of conservation. And sacrifice. The trees grow new skin over every spot where a leaf once was. The trees will live. The leaves will not, but they are making a grand exit.
Nature shows us tangible, real-time change. Change endlessly seeking balance. Here’s a truth about nature, from the Tao: “heaven and earth are ruthless.” Sometimes brutal. Sometimes bittersweet. Life bulldozes through its bleakness – its broken rocks and its broken hearts and its bankruptcy. It’s a dusty path that leads to more busted rocks and broken hearts. More loss. Loss and gain. Gain too, because it’s a green path as well. Life dances through its brightness – its beauty and its bounty. Hearts and moons waxing to full, emptying, filling. A spectrum from bleak to bright.
Energy is always moving. A seed planted, a harvest reaped. Growth, decay, growth. A mended fence. A broken window. Repair. Despair. Gain. Loss. Life. The ever evolving permutation of things swirling in the yin yang pinwheel. We live, survive, thrive, fail, fly.
There’s a red arrow on the map: You are here on this autumn day. And everything is changing. The leaves animate the space. Vivid. Vibrant. Radiant. For now.
Brooklyn, New York, in the late 1950s/early 1960s.
My childhood was not without its rough edges, though I will save those stories for another time. It had its smooth edges, too. A considerable softness came in the form of my older sister and her friends. My most vivid memory of them is when they were teenagers. There were several years between us, enough to make them magical beings, light years ahead of me in the spectral arc of discovery. They were ever moving through this incredible cosmic realm, swirling somewhere between being a girl and being a woman.
Their bedrooms held a menagerie of stuffed animals, yet the air was scented with hairspray and noxzema, and filled with music. It was the radio, or records, and laughter, always laughter, as the backdrop, as they practiced the newest American Bandstand dances, learned the latest lyrics. It was rock and roll. Growing up. Freedom.
I remember their crazy hair curlers, their bumps and curves. We had sodas at Woolworths and sometimes saw a Saturday matinee. I listened to them talk about clothes, and school, and boys. Their essence was within reach, not only in my being intrigued by who they were, but envisioning the near horizon of who I would become. They seemed to know everything about everything, and I was afforded a glimpse into the mystery of their circle.
One of the girls was Marion. She had dark hair, and dark eyes, like most of the neighborhood Italian girls. What set her apart was that she was funny and warm; quick to laugh, and even quicker at getting everyone else to laugh. She was also the one whose eyes would fill with tears when she heard a sad story. If you were hurting, she’d cry with you. I remember her compassionate heart, as beautiful and deep as her soulful brown eyes.
My sister later parted ways with the family. It was a staggering loss. But, it was Marion who would fill that gap for me, keeping the bridge to that wonderful past alive. My mother’s relationship with Marion’s brother brought us all together as family. Marion was married and had her own sweet little girl. I grew up having many Sunday dinners with all of them at Marion’s parents place, and many gatherings at her home, or mine. Great meals, good times.
We spent time together through the years. She remained ever that person who made those funny faces, laughed with you, cried with you. I am grateful that I got to tell Marion that my memory of her was always the teenage version of her, my magical vision of her, and that she was always a big sister to me.
Marion passed recently, suddenly. I hadn’t seen her in a long time. Her husband, daughter, grandchildren, brothers, niece, relatives, and friends, will grieve the staggering loss; love her, miss her, remember her. My mind and heart will always hold her in that ephemeral moment of her teenage youth. Lord have mercy. It was glorious.
Your creativity is an egg. Fragile, evolving.
It requires warmth, incubation, nurturance, and the space to crack out of a seemingly unbreakable shell. Rock it till its ready. Let it out. Repeat.
And you? You are stronger than you think.
The photo is from Klaus Enrique’s amazing ‘Arcimboldo’ series.
It was winter, with trees asleep and dreaming of spring. In the cold and quiet of morning, the sun-warmed icy branches bloomed with drops of water. I took the shot.
The artist and painter, Philippe Pherivong, saw my photo, and called the image “the tears of a bud.”
The phrasing, more than the image, reminded me that where there is life, there is movement. Even in what appears to be stillness. Even though you feel you are waiting. Process is the path of living things. Change. Growth. Life is the glorious and bittersweet unfolding of continuous becoming. The tears of a bud waiting to be born.
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