Sometimes the beauty of it all rises up in my throat and I realize suddenly that this is not a good feeling. I drive by trees buildings people water lights TVs and I think to myself “if I can just describe it in the perfect words, then they will feel how beautiful it is.” But we live in a world where when I see an opening bud of an orangey-red rose—actually a color for which THERE IS NO NAME—I think to myself—that is the color of my first car. It was an old 2-door Datsun with a sunken front passenger seat. No one ever rode in the seat, so how did it get broken? That’s what’s wrong. That car color isn’t real, the rose is. But I don’t have a name for it.
So you see what I mean? Faced with the thing that defines earthly beauty, I am unable to look straight at it. Instead, I revert to the everyday, the mundane, to a manmade mess of metal whose only purpose is to move me from one place to another, a job once done by my feet. Or my wings, in another incarnation. This elevation of the functional over the sublime, of earth over heaven, of man over divinity, is a symptom of our malaise. We are uneasy with maturity in America. We want to remain young, we worship youth, so that the physical becomes our meditation.
When I was a child, everything I experienced made my body sing. Roller skating on the sidewalk—the bump bumpbiddiiiieah on the concrete slabs made my head my legs and hands buzz. I loved it, but I could only stand it for so long. Or lying out on the back lawn with my long brown hair spread out around my head. In early adolescence I spent whole days like this. The sun burned out any thinking I might have done, and I daydreamed that my hair was filled with diamonds as I became a new Venus—only I did not know my name then. The pain of the sun on my eyelids was the only thing that stopped me. But I was beauty for a time.
Being a young nation, we seem to be stuck in the worship of corporeal miracles. The miracle of plastic surgery, the technology that extends life, feebleminded and shrunken, much longer than we had hope to expect. Should we live as long as we are able? Or do we stop the earth’s rotation, or waste water every time another wrinkle disappears or a respirator turns on? If I do not die, will the next generation live? If I do not acknowledge my own wisdom born of age, can my daughters become wise? Would I be doomed to a life measured by the cost of my new car, the number of dresses I own, the amount of idle time I possess?
My retreat into motherhood and home seemed to be the only way to escape perpetual self absorption. Preparing a new generation to rediscover the world does not seems wasteful—I find myself some mornings examining a new patch of gray or a dry spot on my face and smiling at myself in the mirror. When I turned 40, my reaction surprised even me. I was exhilarated at all I had accomplished, and all that would come. When I turned 50, I felt powerful. Half a century. What I know would explode the brain of a 25-year-old. All over again, the world belongs to me—except this time, I know more.
So, on an early spring morning when I could still see my breath and the sun hurt my eyes after a long winter, I made myself go out and bend down to breathe in the burning air and count all the tiny crocus leaves with the stripes that stand up straight and tall, as if it were not cold for them. Later, I walked around the back of my house to show my then 5 year old that the rose bushes were coming up, and prophesied a good June, whether or not she and I knew the name of the color of the perfect blooms which would show up. And it was so good that I still remember exactly how she looked when she heard the news
** from 1997 with minor edits.