Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

January.  §

For two decades the month of January has held special and mixed meanings for me. This January has been no different, and now that it’s over, I am taking a moment, in the wee hours once again, to reflect.

And to wish my wife a happy birthday.

— § —

I’ve mentioned before that one of the most important creative works in my life is an episode of Northern Exposure called Nothing’s Perfect.

It concerns the relationship that we have to time, to the things that matter to us, and to our own mortality. It argues, with a gentle, heartbreaking touch, that because we are inevitably imperfect ourselves, it is only the imperfections in our lives and in the things that we love that make life beautiful and worth living—if we’re able to embrace, rather than fight them.

Certaintly not a new insight, but perhaps we can grant that this was once a new imagining of it, for a generation that—like every other—was once itself new. Every generation is born to its own time and to its own unconscious “discoveries” of ageless truths.

And as if to provide an object lesson, the original broadcast form of the episode—the one that left me in tears many years ago—has never been available as a recording. Only a slightly edited version, with all of its music replaced and some of its deepest notes blunted, remains for us to see today.

But it is worth seeing anyway.

— § —

“Two and two are four
Four and four are eight
Eight and eight are sixteen
Sixteen and sixteen are thirty-two

Inchworm, inchworm
Measuring the marigolds
You and your arithmetic
You’ll probably go far

Two and two are four
Four and four are eight
Eight and eight are sixteen
Sixteen and sixteen are thirty-two

Inchworm, inchworm
Measuring the marigolds
Seems to me you’d stop and see
How beautiful they are”

— § —

The road to one’s own unavoidable end is always amazing, touching, and fraught. There is much to be surprised by, much to be delighted by, much to pull longingly at the heartstrings along the way.

A life is a kind of magic spell, an ephemeral bubble of meaning cast adrift on a grey and uncertain sea. It wanders and dances, silently, hopefully, full of the tension of its own existence and the ambition to somehow be different from every other little creature that ever was.

And then, it disappears as suddenly as it came, and as though it were never there, leaving only the sea itself behind.

And yet later, when we tell the story of its being, it is not the vast, enduring sea that we remember or describe.

— § —

When you’re young, the idea of being “together until the very end” has an abstract, gossamer quality about it. It is not so much a plan of action as it is a statement of purpose.

As you age together with the partner that you believe and hope you have chosen for life, it takes on another quality; as the two of you leave the apparent eternity and immortality of young adulthood behind and begin to see the end of all time ahead of you, it becomes a kind of secret pact amongst souls, a way of being alive in solidarity in the face of an insurmountable, unsolvable puzzle that has no choice but to overtake the innocent and the guilty alike.

Walter Benjamin was no doubt not the first to argue that in death we are alone. He may have been the most eloquent in suggesting that the stories of those around us enable us to “warm ourselves by the fire” of others’ lonely mortal journeys, including those final chapters and pages that we cannot ever experience consciously for ourselves.

I’ll argue that in coupling and in coupling alone, the effect is deeper than this. By choosing to weave two stories into one, we become conscious of the contours of our own story, from prologue through epilogue, in ways that would otherwise be impossible for us.

In those that we choose to love forever, and so long as we are able to honor them and the love that we have promised to them, we gain the ability to become the soothsayers of which Benjamin elsewhere spoke. We gain the ability to stand and to see outside the times and narratives of our own limited lives.

If it is our children that grant us immortality, it is our spouses that show us what this immortality means and contains, its contours and its shape. It is our spouses that enable us to sense it viscerally, while—paradoxically—we struggle with futility to remain alive together, along with the very relationships that bind us to one another.

— § —

Every light continually gives rise to an unbounded, uncountable infinity of photons, each of which disappears from existence almost as soon as it is born.

This apparently static thing that we call “light” is in fact the process of endless creation and destruction at unimaginable scale.

Then, at length, every light goes out—when this production and consumption of being-as-such ends.

Only darkness is at peace. Light, like life, is nothing less than a kind of wild hunger for birth and death, sublimated into something whose vague glow illuminates the passing of time.

— § —

January, January, here you remain for just one or two moments more.

And then you’ll be gone again.

And when you come back, as always, given truths will either be more true or will have been transmuted into falsehood; new stories will have begun and old stories ended; we will be a year closer—another year in the limited handful of years available to either of us—to the end.

You keep coming, and you keep going, you and your silent snows.

And then someday, you won’t come ever again.

I guess that’s just the way it is.

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