The quiet white stillness outside the chrysalis bears no resemblance to the cacophony within. The rending of flesh from bone, and bone from marrow, the screeching tear as seed splits hull and a wing cracks into being. . . the noise of that inexorable process is as deafening as a war zone.
There is no help for it, though. Becoming is the only choice. It is not Change or Remain the Same. It is simply Change or Change. Even death, with its pretense of permanence, is an illusion. Renewal is the only constant. All the time, within all things. Listen closely: inside, you can hear shift and jostle of the next embodiment.
Even down on the parched forest floor under the long-fingered shadow of winter, no endings can be found. All is becoming.
Spring, but only the first of the bushes have begun to shoulder open their purpling buds. Weary, crooked sticks lean against the sky. What I know, we all know: the feathering leaves unfurl, the flowers begin. Life returns as it always does. Also, it never ended. It was happening there in the blank silence, too. Death is no less alive than life itself. Everything is becoming, even in dormancy. Even in the in-between.
I dig up the calendar from 2010. An insurance change requires me to stretch back into forgotten history for an accounting of doctor’s appointments and hospital stays. The first of that year is life in Technicolor, even against the heavy Adirondack days. I see in my own hand the careless flourishes across January, February, March. A sledding play-date on camp’s tipping hillside. Staff game night. A preschool field trip. Visits from grandparents scrawled in bold letters across entire weeks.
Then, one square in April, blank. Another. And another. Days into pages, three, four, weeks into months. Not even a dog-ear, not even an erasure. Paper as empty as the branches here, the dull, bare maples sighing in their dry earth.
The nothing was not nothing. It was everything. It was the ground falling open and a marriage collapsing into the ragged sinkhole. The small frames of the calendar seem oddly cramped in their attempt to mark the tectonic event, and about as reliable as Dali’s clocks. Is this not what survivors of disasters say? The seconds slowed to minutes, hours, lifetimes. In a blink, one entire universe trades places with another. The rearrangement is anything but momentary. It is a whole new age in the history of the world.
Failure and ruin. Even when they reduce us to fragments, they are the whole of that terrible verge. They are the bellowing commandment for a new beginning.
The strident nothing of everything turns into something else. A few job interviews are penciled in. August 23rd is squared off as the first day of the position I hold now. Just as suddenly as they froze bare, the pages crack open, blossoming with trainings and brown bag talks and the names of students who have since walked across the stage.
It was just three months. One season. In the span of a single exhalation, one stunned breath, the shedding of skin and form, the white-bellied exposure of the most translucent husk. Then bones knit. The strange flesh is grafted on, and the beginnings something altogether new crawls, dazed and damp, into the searing luster of the world.
It is hubris to believe this one thing can be chosen and so it will remain. We are forever stepping into baptismal waters just as the silken threads of the next incarnation thread themselves through our limbs. These wisps spin around us before we have even begun to dry. We feel just the faintest breath of this new weaving, and it is easy to mistake it for something we can brush away. It pulls us in as surely as we step to the shore, believing ourselves renewed once and for all, believing ourselves reborn.
We are shapeshifters, blind to our own relentless becoming until we notice too late we have lost our legs for fins, then our gills for beaks, then our arms for the finest cilia, then our bones for smoke and honey, and soil and light.