I grew up on a farm, the sort where nothing obstructs the view of the sunrises or sunsets. The sort where there’s more acres than people, more cows than buildings.
One day, after a bit of a windstorm, I filled a bucket with well-water and splashed it upwards and over my roof. There were leaves gathering there, and I decided it was better that they wash down the drain now, rather than wait for the next part of their journey. If they stayed there, they’d turn into a home for a bird that couldn’t live well up there, or they’d turn into mulch for a roof that would eventually give way and join them in rot.
The water rushed through the drain, gurgling as it struggled to move past all the debris I knocked from the rooftop, finally pushing it all out in front of my feet. There was a pebble, and a slimy tangle of unnameable gunk, and a few leaves, and around all of it, was a giant monarch butterfly. A dead one.
I must have killed her– drowned her with the force of my splash, with the purpose of my urgency.
I died then, too, for just for a second.
It was as if a motionless butterfly hugged its wings over me– a sticky wet tarp over my heart– suffocating it, for a beat at least.
I couldn’t stop staring at her wings. Undamaged by the storm, simply motionless and beautiful– the perfection of them making my stomach roll. There were ugly things in that pile, too. Tangles riddled with gunk– ugly ugly things. The sort that make strong adults choke on air, the sort that make it so no one ever wants to look too deeply into the dark abyss of their drains. But it was the fallen beauty that stopped time, it always is. An object in motion stays in motion, and an object paused is contagious too.
Death is coded into us.
A spider knows how to spin at birth, and we know how to die. It is our web, that we spin inside of us. We spend a lifetime with that trick up our sleeves, just to make sure it surprises everyone else when we play it out.
Once a moment of time dies, it stays dead. Time waits for no one, least of all itself. It becomes a leftover– a fragment– and our hearts aren’t built to process that while living, so a part of us dies with that moment.
In that way, carrying death with us is a critical part of living. It is a web spun from the gossamer threads of our ancestry. That web pulls and snaps inside of us when we recognize loss. It bounces inside of us with stretch and agony– pushed and tugged by the unstoppable buoyancy of living.
And we are tiny robots, trying to process it all into the binary. Sometimes it breaks us a little bit, sometimes we crash. Nothing lasts forever, and some things are built for their eventual end.
We recognize even the echoes of death, in our core.
We recognize ourselves in the patterns of the universe so that we can continue the code.
We are temporary machines, born with the understanding that we will survive all our storms except the final one.
It is why we die with the ones we love, and the fallen ones we see. It’s why we live in the ones we love, and ache for the loss of lives we never knew.
We reason life and death into now and then, before and after, ones and zeroes– and some part of us can’t help but hope for the possibility that might exist between those two points.
It’s why it is so very important to let yourself break, at least a little bit, over every little bit. It puts a hiccup in the code, a space between the binary. It gives a little more elasticity to the web inside of us– the one spun from magic and grief, instinct and love.
We are temporary machines, but the program we run is eternal. We are each other’s ancestors.
And all those butterflies that are washed away? All those dead seconds that time left behind?
They aren’t wasted.
They aren’t forgotten.
We carry them forward.
The final fog of a magic trick, passed from one generation to the next.
They will be the spun-strength of somebody’s life. The birth-wealth of somebody’s human inheritance.
They will be somebody’s magic.
Written for the On Living and Dying series. If you’d like to be a part of the challenge, find more info here: 365 Days On Living and Dying. Ra Avis writes over at Rarasaur.com, where frightfully wondrous things happen. Pop by and say hey.
Featured image via Unsplash.com
(Psssst: Sreejit gave me the top secret dungeon keys and let me post this on my own, so if if something is messed up, it’s all me. Love you much. – Ra )