“Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror. But you are eternity and you are the mirror.” -Khalil Gibran
He is faded and worn; one can see it as his rusty breaths form sighs like question marks that punctuate the morning air. His hunched shoulders and tired old back suggest a lifetime of bending over to kiss surfaces with an age-old paintbrush, years of making concrete that which only exists in the mind. His figure is stooped, supported only by two weathered legs. He limps; he is too proud to carry a cane.
The artist looks deep into my eyes, searching, waiting. I laugh cruelly at what he holds in his hands. A memento of a distant land. A long, thin paintbrush that mocks his trembling fingers, quivering from winters of overuse. Yet the artist holds it lovingly, with careful hands. Perhaps it was a gift from a distant, long-lost lover, a deceased parent, a sister that never visits anymore. The artist’s eyes are closed now; he remembers a wonderful past, yearns for the beauty and ecstasy of a life that was once his. It is sad to see his face long for something so far gone, almost pathetic. He breathes slowly, savoring the essence of inspiration, the stuff of dreams. His elderly face turns to me and he smiles. A toothless grin. I realize I am not laughing anymore; I am crying.
Life is a slightly lopsided supernova that frays gently at the edges. You enjoy the warm sunsets and kisses from loved ones when life is. When life moves on and you learn what it means to grow old and forget youth, you don’t go slowly. The density of time and space and matter and love collapse on itself in a second and all the life in it implodes, splatters onto a canvas. The canvas of the world. And in that moment you remember once more the clarity of the stars, and the hushes of mothers, and the spryness of dance which envelops young lovers in moments of tenderness, the melody of hearts and the meekness of breaths in lovers’ quiet. A song of time’s cacophony, you do not forget the contours of your wife’s wrinkled cheeks, or the smoothness of her hands which seemed never to age, or the songs she sang at early dawn, like the lullabies of heaven that only the old can hear, calling you out of the night and bridging you into morning, into the light. You do not forget. And you do not want to. Life has come full circle.
I feel silent drops of tears fall from my face and dry slowly into hard strokes of paint. The artist kisses me as he has kissed me countless times before. As he has always kissed me. His grey, balding palette of hair reminds me he has not long to go before he implodes. The beautiful artist dresses me as the cynics of the atmosphere look down with eyebrows raised, as hovering spheres of luminous radiance squeal and talk amongst themselves excitedly, and at last the artist puts his paint-brush down and says, “It is finished.”
I still feel the skeletons of his kisses on my cheek where they died that Saturday morning.
*I truly felt a kinship to this elderly artist when I wrote this story. It is something about knowing that life, along with the bits and pieces of it that you pick up along the way, is ephemeral that allows you to appreciate its unparalleled beauty all the more.