August 28, 2016

Right seeing.

August 28th, 2016.  Post-transplant day #992. Right seeing.

I sat and watched these birds wheeling in this crazy pattern against an azure sky for almost an hour, until they finally settled to the rooftops. Every time they came around and hit just the right angle, the sun lit them up like fireworks, full of silver, black and gold. I had no idea pigeons could be so colorful.

I've often appreciated the natural beauty nature affords in smaller scales than the well-known glories of Jackson Hole, the Tetons, the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls; but following transplant, I'm very attuned to even the smallest details. Moments like this are very American Beauty, I grant; and perhaps seeing that film, with all of Ricky Fitts' poetic captures of singular moments on tape, is what started me on the path of looking at the beauty even in the simplest, most accidental things. And I came to realize there's beauty in so many forms, far beyond the conventional definitions.

What I mostly learned is that there is beauty even in death and decay. Some of my favorite photos are of macros of chipped and peeling paint, rust patterns, abandoned theatres and gyms and subway stations; and not just marveling at beauty in ruins, but the beauty OF the ruin. The patterns of water damage and dry rot, the way linoleum eventually succumbs to time. How metal rusts from the outside in, but its the rusty insides that crumble first, leaving a fragile shell of faintly adhered iron oxides.

Death isn't always the ugly business we think of it. It can be a peaceful, right, beautiful process when the soul is ready, the timing right, and the care-taking compassionate. Several of my design school colleagues have passed away from cancer already. The first one...she was able to be taken home, where she died in peace surrounded by family and friends - and a bright light to the end. That is rightness of action and grace of circumstance. That's beauty.

John Burroughs wrote, "How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days." This truth of this sustained me in the final movement of my life, before transplant provided the coda that lets me waltz on. It allowed me to remind myself that I was still a man with a vibrant nature, with passions for light and darkness, for design and photography, for creation and destruction.

As I watched these birds, all of these thoughts passed through my mind because these birds defied a basic principle of life: that there is only growth and stagnation, blossoming and decay. There is no such thing as stasis! And yet...this beautiful flock of little dinosaurs was in a HOLDING PATTERN. For an hour, as they flew, time didn't move; or it circled around and around. And I sat watching, on a quiet Sunday, with my stressors and reliefs in perfect balance, allowing me to see again not just with my eyes, but with my heart.

It doesn't take a near-death experience to learn to see this way, to stand transfixed by the unique color of the setting sun on the Brooklyn Bridge, or by the modern art the sun makes out of the (normally ugly) Manhattan buildings, as it reduces all the nuances of the buildings to singular colors - a bright, and a shadow. All lines and contrast. Or by the lichen that grows bright green and delightfully fuzzy in neat rectangles between the slats of a subway grate. Or by a flock of birds wheeling in a sky such a shade of blue that it could drive a man insane if he drank too much of it.

But it may take this tenuous span of time after that close brush with death to more fully and more fully and more fully be able to satisfy my need to experience these moments of pure beauty, tuning my senses to acknowledge the macro, but appreciate the micro.

I don't want to lose this. Whatever happens from this point forth, there are, as always, no guarantees. But I want to guarantee to myself that I won't stop seeing these things, stopping and taking the moment to let it soak in.

Today, I was reminded by a simple flock of pigeons of the hidden pleasures around me; that I should stop and look with my heart even more often than I already do. The concerns of work, politics, finances, and relationships are all, ultimately, temporary. But these fleeting moments - the wheeling flock, the autumn leaves, the setting sun - are enduring in their own right; always there to be seen, if only I look.