To set the stage, I’m stringing together a few of my favorite excerpts from a comic book that I read recently (titled: “So, You’re Going to Die“).
To contemplate the end of ourselves in this world is frightening; to do so without looking for life after this world requires a special kind of bravery. I’ve targeted this book at skeptics for a reason. If you have faith, real faith, in a solid Abrahamic religious doctrine, you should be able to find your solace in your conception of the afterlife. (Or be scared silly by the threat of endless hell fire, but that’s a different comic.) There’s an old chestnut of a story, where there’s a powerful king who is searching for an artifact – or maybe just a bit of wisdom – that would make a sad man happy and a happy man sad. One of his servants brings back a ring inscribed with ‘This too shall pass.’ It’s not just our instincts that tell us to hope for eternity: our culture and religion do as well. I blame my years of faith for leading me to expect things — at least some things — to be able to last forever and ever, world without end, amen. Figure out what makes you happy and do it, because life is interesting.
…and it doesn’t last forever.
Two summers ago, the water was running, and I was holding a green and yellow sponge in my left hand, passing dish after dish underneath the kitchen faucet; scrubbing the top, bottom, and inside of each item and then placing it into the dishwasher, which was down to my right.
The activity was monotonous and totally mindless, so I was either listening to music — streaming Spotify on my phone — or examining my own thoughts while my subconscious self orchestrated these mundane movements. Eventually, I reached down into the sink and took my number one favorite glass EVER into my left hand, a small glass that pictured a bunny dancing with a strawberry on the front. I squeezed and nudged my left hand down into the bottom of the glass and then began my back-and-forth scrubbing motion, but I must have used too much force, because the next time I looked down, I was jarred back into full consciousness; without exaggerating, blood was everywhere — forming a pool in the glass, flowing down into the sink water, and then extending itself into sickly-looking circles that covered all of the dishes. I felt like throwing up. But instead, I just stood there, completely paralyzed; bending over the sink and staring down at the broken glass in my hand.
“I’M BLEEDING,” I yelled at the house, informatively.
“WHAT?” A pair of feet stomped down the stairs, and then Christopher suddenly appeared beside me, turning off the water and removing the broken glass from my hand in one quick motion.
He pushed me up the stairs and made me sit down on the tiled bathroom floor.
“I… I can’t keep my eyes open, Chris,” I stammered, feeling gravity’s force on my eyelids like I’d never experienced before.
“You STAY AWAKE, Rose,” Chris grumbled anxiously, fumbling with a bottle of alcohol.
“I… I think I’m about to pass out,” I whispered. He shook me, yelling that I had to stay awake, did I understand? No matter what, I had to stay awake.
About 45 minutes later, I was sitting stiffly on the couch downstairs and cradling my bandaged left thumb in my right hand. I had calmed down after finally realizing that I wasn’t going to bleed out and die.
But immediately after registering the relief that came along with realizing that I was going to survive, another kind of grief settled in: “Oh no… my bunny glass! It’s gone…”
Orange juice and chocolate milk could be poured into other fun and decorative cups and glasses, sure, but they would never, ever taste quite the same.
I was saying goodbye to John, Charlie, and Jeffcoats at Whole Foods this morning, laughing and waving and spinning around with a brown, paper shopping bag in my hand (and which contained a glass bottle of root beer-flavored kombucha, a small plastic bag of figs and chocolate ginger cubes, and a slightly bruised yellow pear) when I saw the face that always makes me feel like I’ve been living and dying every single day for the last million years.
“Be safe out there,” he said in a low voice, patting my shoulder and then brushing past me. I was already walking away; I didn’t know how to turn around, or what to say, so I didn’t do either. I stepped outside of the store and onto the pavement, feeling the ice crunch underneath my feet and wondering if he’d even bother to show up at the hospital if I got into a car crash that afternoon.
“I’m sorry you’re probably crying right now,” a text message from my best friend read. I got it when I reached my car. “Remember that you’re not alone.”
I let out a deep breath.
“It just feels like I’m living in this alternate reality with someone I was best friends with in a previous world or life, and while I can remember them perfectly, they don’t remember me at all. It is horrible.”
Let’s rewind a few months.
“Let’s say that you have a FAVORITE glass,” Charlie began, molding the air with his hands and sculpting the general outline of this glass. “It has a bunny dancing and holding a bunch of grapes pictured on it–”
“A strawberry,” I corrected him quickly. “It’s holding a strawberry.”
“–a strawberry,” he repeated, lowering his head. “Yes, it’s dancing with a strawberry, and you like the size of it, the shape of it, and the way that the glass feels in your hands. It is a PERFECT glass. And you have it sitting there on the table one afternoon when somebody walks through the room, bumps into the table, and sends this glass — your favorite glass — falling to the floor.” He shakes his head sadly. “It shatters into pieces, completely irreparable, and you think to yourself, of course — they would break THAT glass.”
I nodded my head up and down, like I was sitting in the front pew at church and couldn’t agree with the pastor more; I could understand his analogy perfectly.
“But imagine,” Charlie’s voice softened, “that you had known all along that this bunny glass was going to break. That it wouldn’t be yours forever. You already loved it a lot, but wouldn’t you have adored it even more if you had known?”
“Of course I would have,” I exhaled, feeling incredibly nostalgic.
“That’s how it is with most things. If you had taken that glass in your hand when you first bought it years ago and could have seen that it was already shattered, you would have treated it more gently, paid more attention to it, and loved it even more. I can see that you’re already dead, Jace — that you’ve already died — and that’s how I am able to love you fully right now.”
“I already have an idea for the next one,” I emailed Aaron (my tattoo artist) in late November.
“I’m not going to tell you the whole story until I’m there, BUT the sentiments behind this one are impermanence and appreciation. I’m attaching two pics; the first includes the shape/style of my fav bunny glass (the bun holding the strawberry — the third one from the left), and the second pic is a close up of that bun on a matching dinner plate. What I want: a tattoo of the bunny glass shattering. I’m picturing it in three disjointed parts, visibly in the process of breaking (like part of it is leaning this way, part that, and there are possibly shards of glass shooting out here and there). Please take this, creatively, wherever you want (like the glass could be filled with OJ orrrrrr nothing). This one will go on my left wrist and, if you aren’t already booked for Jan, I’d love to schedule to have this one done in your cool new shop!”
My appointment is scheduled for next Saturday afternoon. I’ve been saving this placement (the wrist of my dominant hand) for a while, and I’m glad that I waited. Tattoos can serve as conversation starters, special landmarks, beautiful works of art and even gentle reminders, and I believe that they’re more for you than they are for anyone else. Each time I glance down at the shattering bunny glass, I’ll think of my favorite people and things, and I hope that doing so will make me smile. Looking at it will also remind me of something that’s truly important to remember (and I’m repeating the words of a half-assed Buddhist friend of mine here):
“If you like or love something, enjoy it while it lasts; if you don’t, know that it won’t last.”
Whether you’re happy or sad today, this phrase/truth should resonate with (and, I hope, comfort) you.
PS: ^ 1/14/17 pic update!