Between Beauty & Death
If I look to my right and only to my right, I am in a lush garden.
My once tiny rose bush has grown to be four feet tall. Tiny buds are threatening to open into miniature white blossoms at any moment. Purity, beauty, life in perpetual renewal! That is my right hand path.
If I look to my left and only to my left, there is a garbage can and it is giving off a slight odor of putrefying refuse. Death and decay! That is my left hand path.
It feels like I have come to a crossroads: the left or the right hand path?
Do I wish to rid my life of all death and decay and to turn only towards the beauty of the rose bushes? Or do I wish to kill the rose bushes and turn only to the death and decay?
This is how my day is beginning today and how my life unfolds day after day after day. I cannot tell you how many times I have stood at this same crossroads or how ironic it feels to see that I have created this seeming dilemma on my own patio. I am now sitting in my personal shrine to the tension between life and death, beauty and refuse.
In fact, I live my life in a little mountain valley that is the epitome of this tension. I am surrounded by lush green mountains that give this valley a bowl-like quality and a haunting sense of beauty, mystery, and claustrophobia.
In the bowl there is this terrible, wonderful mash-up of beauty and refuse.
I am surrounded by poverty.
It expresses relentlessly, barely masked beneath the bright, ornate clothing worn by the native women who patrol the streets of this Mexican pueblo in search of trinket buyers. Their disappointment, anger, coldness…as the words, “No Gracias” roll off my tongue make me want to run away, to find a place free of that oh so familiar scent of poverty: the stench of death and decaying possibilities.
I want to go away to an island of beauty where nothing terrible ever touches me or the people around me.
I want to forget about hungry bellies and child slaves selling gum and cigarettes until dawn.
Yet when I meet beauty walking down the street in her unassuming, naturally intoxicating way, I find I also wish to run. I shout at her. I want to know: Can’t you hear the growl of the hungry bellies? Don’t you know about the suffering just over there? How dare you be beauty in the midst of suffering? Get me out of here.
The stench of death is calling. Relentlessly, I answer.
And so, here I live, at the crossroads, unable to achieve a resolution. I cannot kill beauty nor can I ignore death for her.
I yearn to grab the crossroads like two pieces of yarn and weave life and death, beauty and refuse together into some kind of twilight tapestry. And I have. Over and over again, I have. Yet here I am again at the crossroads between decay and fresh blossoms.
I imagine myself as a tiny person. I am climbing the stems of the rosebush. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…one by one I encounter and surmount the thorns in my crazy bid to summit.
All I know is that I want to be sitting next to the rosebuds when they blossom.
I am near the top when a brown, wilted petal drifts past my nose. As I watch it fall, I realize that I will never resolve this tension between life and death, beauty and decaying refuse. This is the nature of our world.
By the time the petal hits the ground, I am grateful for the chance to live in the midst of it all and to know that I do not have to spend too much time in any one experience.
I can also relax.
I can fall into beauty’s embrace knowing I will not forget.
I will not overlook the tragedies of life. For at the end of each embrace, I can count on only one thing: beauty will return me again to the crossroads.