‘In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.’
- Gautama Buddha
Friedrich Nietzsche did not believe in the end; ours or that of the universe. Eternal return is the idea that the universe and all existence have occurred infinite times. Time is cyclical, not linear; our lives repeat endlessly. Human beings, sub-atomic particles, the white sky, the cherry trees.
Ancient Indians, Egyptians, Pythagoreans, Stoics, even Schopenhauer in his own way, believed in some form of reincarnation. Monotheists, in an afterlife. And Antoine Lavoisier’s law of conservation of matter states: ‘nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything changes.’
But even Lavoisier, in that same treatise, Elements of Chemistry, warned that ‘we must trust to nothing but facts.’ And the fact is that there is a painful void in the chair where you used to sit.
For thousands of years, Sakura have grown along the Arakawa River in Tokyo. The Japanese cherry tree blossoms are fragile, bloom briefly. But overwhelmingly, beautifully. In Japanese culture, sakura symbolize the evanescence of human life.
When they bloom, the people pause for a day of hanami: flower viewing,
Murekitaru / Hana mata hana no / Asukayama
All flocked together / Blossoms upon blossoms / Asuka Hill
To gaze at the cherry blossoms, as ephemeral and beautiful as the viewers’ own lives. To look at your chair and see you, not it. To be still a minute in my own.
On the 27th of March, 1912, along the banks of the Potomac, the wives of an American president and Japanese ambassador planted two cherry trees. The cuttings were a present flown across the Pacific to Washington, D.C.
Japan offered America more than three thousand cherry trees and later, during the Second World War, lost its own to the Allied bombing raids on the city of Tokyo. America sent cuttings of cherry trees back after the fighting was done. Now, for one or two precious weeks every spring, cherry blossoms bloom again in Japan.
Your chair is still empty, but perhaps on it, I can place other things, as fleeting and fragile and beautiful as us. Perhaps if I do, the chair, the void will hurt less to look at.
Sawdust carpets from Guatemala. Tibetan mandalas. Vanuatan drawings in clay, sand, and volcanic ash. Rangoli designs of flower petals, stones, colored flour and rice. Navajo and Hopi Native American paintings made with colored sand.
Flowers in necklaces, like Hawaiian lei, in arrangements of Ikebana art. Flowers in my hair, in your hair, in a vase on the breakfast table between us. Love notes drawn onto fogged windows, hearts and wings in cappuccino froth. The smell of you on your pillow, in your sweaters and scarves.
I do not know whether we return eternally, or whether the cherry blossoms will next year. I know they are here now, that they are beautiful. I know that I miss you.
I know that I am thankful to have seen them and to have loved you.
For your fifteenth birthday, little prince. Your chair is always there.
For the friends and families who have recently lost their own little boys.