This post by my dear friend, Amanda, has been slow-cooking into a rolling boil in my mind. More so now, given the pandemonium and senseless death in Boston this week. I, too, greeted with repulsion the idea of death begetting beauty. This vexation wasn’t foreign; I remember a similar feeling when I first read T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. Just the first five lines, in fact.
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
At first glance, this passage frustrated me to no end. In particular, “all time is eternally present” was a paradox too nettling to entertain. Pardon me if this was the only thing I gleaned from reading Tuck Everlasting in 5th grade, I thought, but in order for something to be eternal, it can’t have temporal boundaries. BUT time engenders boundaries just by its nature: we employ time and space to determine relativity (right, Einstein?), and this requires parameters. So boundary-abiding time is the antithesis of boundless eternity, then? WHAT ARE YOU GETTING AT, MISTER ELIOT? I MEAN, REALLY.
Exasperated, I slumped back and took sip of my wine (yes, I get this physically worked up while reading). I caught a glimpse of my weary, 3:15ish a.m. face reflected in the glass in my hand. The glass’s curvature and my bloodshot eyes hiding behind glasses rendered my face a fruit fly-like caricature. I snorted with laughter. Thank goodness no one is awake to witness you right now, weirdo. Good thing you don’t look like this all the time.
And then I had one of those moments when something clicks in your mind but no one else is around to revel in it with you (don’t worry, you checked), so you geek out and celebrate by yourself:
Staring at my buggy wine-glass self, I realized what I had failed to see moments earlier: this “impossible” statement of Eliot’s was actually completely true (OK OK GUESS YOU DESERVED THAT NOBEL PRIZE BRO). Because, just as an image in a wine glass is both the same as and entirely different from the thing it reflects, so a moment of time is simply the reflection of eternity. And so, time and eternity are perhaps not antithetical, but rather the exact same thing.
Of course, that was one line of a poem. I could’ve just turned the page and read on. Death of a human being is infinitely more difficult to circumvent. And yes, it is undoubtedly tough to observe death’s reflection in a wine glass and think, wow, it sure looks ugly right here, but that doesn’t mean it is wholly and fully defined by this current ugliness. Maybe death is a particular 3:15ish a.m. reflection of beauty. And maybe, if you’re like me, this idea isn’t easy to swallow right now. Maybe it won’t be for a long while.
But there is always hope: that maybe it will make it easier to spot beauty in the breakdown someday.