I’m learning something right now. The beauty of temporary. I always want everything to be forever, but some things you don’t get at all, unless you are willing to have them for just a moment.
This shouldn’t be a struggle. I love to sit in the woods in the dark. When I do this, it’s almost always very close to morning. I know that the breaking day is just around the corner and that this darkness is not going to last.
I’m as comforted in the lightlessness as I am cheered by the coming dawn, but it’s that twilight in between that I cherish the most.
That gradient of gray that lasts for the shortest period of time. I’m convinced that a big part of why I love it is because it’s so fleeting. I hold it in my eyes for twenty minutes or so and then it’s gone. I’m always very aware during this brief period just how precious the time is, solely due to its ephemerality.
But still, I seem to have trouble with the concept of holding onto things for only a moment and that makes no sense. If I could have something only on the condition that it immediately goes away, would I be content to have it just once, or would I rather never have it at all?
Things move, change and evolve. Sometimes for better, sometimes not. Seeing things as they happen—and making it a point to mentally capture the experience—might be one of the more important things I need to be doing.
As a child, I would lie on the ground in our backyard, studying the sky. Feet towards the house, head uphill towards the alley. Focusing like this might have been the most critical assignment of the day. It wasn’t. But right then it felt like it was. Could I discover something hidden in those floating forms?
This is a game my mother taught me. “See if you can find a shape in the clouds.” I played it with and without her. Likely one of the foundations of my creative thinking. Look and see what you can see, before it changes and disappears.
Because nearly everything disappears.
Cuts and scratches and nicks and bruises. Literal and figurative. They are tolerable in as much as they are only temporary.
Fashionable, even, to the properly aged boy. Playing with friends, trespassing and breaking windows in abandoned buildings, I once caught a railroad spike to the face, resulting in a large gash under my left eye. My parents were mortified and rushed me to the hospital where I was attended to by a plastic surgeon. My mother wanted nothing visible on her son’s face. Me, I was disappointed that I was losing my one chance at a veritable character-defining facial scar. She won out. Thank goodness. It seems that convictions can be as temperamental as the world around us at times. In this case, mine improving with a little age and experience.
I survived boyhood with little more trouble than the need to brush the dust off. But I feel like having a couple of sons likely wears a few years off of you. My folks, though, they survived us, too. Tough nuts, the both of them.
I’ve always understood just how fleeting fatherhood is. I feel like it’s by design. You’re only given just as much as you can handle at a time. At first, the job is pretty basic. Hold the baby. Don’t drop him. Just sit there together.
Even I could do that.
And, if you’re lucky, I suppose, you’ll find yourself sitting in the predawn darkness, listening to the rain. The shades pulled up to witness the random flash of light brought on by a strangely out of season morning storm.
I sit on the edge of his bed, waking him for the new day. “I like the sound of the rain,” he says. I do, too. I’ve been listening to it for hours. But he’s right there—as near to the roof as the inside of our house allows. He gets it up close. The noise envelopes us.
I’m not so much happily envious, as I am simply joyed. Somehow I’ve managed to give him this—a place to peacefully awaken—at least for the short while that he lives here with us. It’s already been nearly 17 years. We won’t get many more.
I sit and think and smile.
I remember a morning, just a few days prior, on the road early, driving. I love to drive. I love the solitude. Nothing is more perfect than an early morning drive alone. Nothing, except, a quiet morning drive in the rain.
I was driving, then it started raining.
Softly. Like the sweeping of a brush. Not the attack of a storm, but a gentle embrace. A quiet murmur to keep me company on my silent journey. It’s beautiful, but only because it’s temporary. If every waking moment were trapped in this grayness, it would drive me mad. But, just for a bit, it’s perfect. A gift. Nothing could be better.
Not all change is painless. I get that. I was speaking with a friend and she was telling me about her divorce. “I refuse to call it a failed marriage,” she said. “Yes, it’s over, but it wasn’t a failure. We had 18 years together and a lot of fun. We made this beautiful boy. It ended, but it didn’t fail.”
It’s a beautiful perspective—one that reminds me to pay heed to all of these daily things before they fade—balanced knowing that some things are allowed to drift away.
I’ve had words bubbling in my brain and permitted them to escape to the page. I know these words won’t get shared. They won’t get posted for my friends to read. The email will never be sent. This group of thoughts will not make its way into these collected stories.
But I did get to enjoy thinking them. Writing them. Reading them to myself.
Maybe I’ll even admire them and think, “That is possibly the greatest sentence I’ve ever written.”
Then I’ll delete them.
And maybe I’ll panic, thinking, “Wait—why did I do that? Bring them back!” I’ll tell myself I should rewrite them before I forget exactly how they were arranged. But instead, I just let them go and I enjoy them even more for having been, but are now lost and out of reach.
This is really what I’m learning. Things don’t need to have eternal substance for them to matter. And even everyday, common things can matter.
Things like rocks from the riverbed. My grandmother called them “lucky stones.” Eroded over time into rounded objects. Perfect for skipping across the water, or for carrying along with you as an amulet.
It was the first good luck charm introduced to me that was in abundance. They were everywhere. If you needed one, you could get one. Easily. All others received their power from being rare. These, merely by persisting. By refusing to go away. And this persistence showed. The hard edges of their former lives couldn’t withstand their own determination. Smoothed away. Soft to touch. Comfortable in my pocket. Probably not bringing me luck, but maybe buying me a little confidence. Maybe that’s better than luck.
Even stone. It’s not really permanent.
Ink is, though. Well, should be. It’s right there in the name. “Permanent ink.” Don’t look at me—I didn’t name it.
I stare at our tattoos as we lie together, me and her. Blacks, now less black. The edges a little softer. These were marks designed to be forever, but they’re slowly changing into something else. Hers, graphic dedications to the men she loves. Me, covered in skulls and flowers. The illustrated blossoms remind me of her.
All summer long she’ll cut wildflowers from her yard and put them into vases throughout our home. They’re beautiful, but so fleeting—lasting only a few days. So, when I see new ones, it’s notable. This is a pretty thing that will soon disappear. Enjoy it until it goes.
When it’s the end of winter, such as it is now, I can think of how this season, too, will soon pass away and the promise of those blooms lays just ahead. She’s reliably predictable.
She reads every story I write. She said, “You know, someone reading these would think that you’re a really nostalgic person. But you’re not at all like that.”
It’s true, I’m not. I don’t spend much time thinking about the past because it doesn’t matter. If it’s not now, then who cares? It’s gone and I automatically discount those things that have refused to endure.
And that’s, perhaps, the biggest part of what I’m learning. That it does matter. That those stories are stones that I walked upon to get here. And how I got here is kind of important. My entire perspective is grounded in those experiences. Anything I have to offer, it comes from where I came.
But even more important is the present. What I plan to let in and what I plan to enjoy. Not everything has to be immortal, forever lasting. Some things I can just hold in my hand, savor for a moment and then tuck the memory away.
That part I get to keep forever.
(Originally published in “Everyday Ordinary No One”)