What a strange one-way journey all of us are on, this short trip from birth to death, with barely enough time to change out of our swaddling cloths, grab a quick canape or two, snap a few selfies in front of the Eiffel tower, the pyramids, or a wax sculpture of Lady Gaga, then wriggle into our most tasteful burial duds. Where do we come from, and where do we go? Are there monsters, are there angels, is there anything at all? So many things we have no way of knowing. It is a fact, though, that we are born into a legacy of inevitable death, combined with the fact that we have inherited a fraught, volatile world that, at any moment, might burst into flames or else slowly lapse into an eternity of darkness and desolation.
But, on the plus side, there’s layer cake! There’s jelly roll, symphonies in the park, and sweet kisses in the dark. There are so many things we don’t have, but so many things that we do. We haven’t been recognized and feted the way that perhaps we feel we should. But we have smelled distant thunderstorms, and built snowmen, and known the feeling of another’s hands in our own. We don’t have everything we want. We may not have financial security, fame, fortune, true love, a feeling of serenity. We don’t have certainty or any kind of assurance, but we have the rococo of the unexpected and the unpredictable, the rich black-velvet chiaroscuro of mystery and ambiguity.
Why do we insist, then, on believing it is the big milestones that give our lives meaning? So much invested in our achievements, our accomplishments; always fretting that we have not reached our goals, are not where we should be on this journey. Always so worried, on this turbulent night flight, about not staying on our unrealistic schedules, so concerned about making that connecting flight, that we don’t notice the northern lights dancing on the horizon. It’s a world of trouble and devastation, for sure. History, politics, trauma, loss, regret, guilt: what burdens we have to bear, what baggage our sore limbs must carry. But what a delightful trip it can be if we cast aside our expectations.
For all we know, at the end of it all, we will be greeted at the ivory gates of heaven by radiant beings playing cover ragtime jazz on silver saxophones. On the other hand, there exists the possibility that there is no meaning at all; after all, nothing is more likely. There is no resonant truth blazing forth in blinding glory; there is only the brief, ephemeral glow of stolen, jeweled moments. You’re five years old, falling asleep in the backseat of your parents’ station wagon, watching the through the fogged-up glass. You’re seventy years old, dancing to Abba at your granddaughter’s wedding. You’re seventeen years old, sitting on a fire escape, sharing a cigarette and a kiss. All these moments falling upon us like a shower of bright sparks drifting down from the passing comet of eternity. These are the sparks we call memory. Perhaps we should pay attention.