Last night I left the office promptly at 5:00, and this combined with the fact that it was the first evening of daylight saving time meant that I commuted home in broad daylight for the first time in months. It's been a long, long lonely winter here in Minnesota, but now, even when the temps are a mere 20 degrees, the sun is beginning to burn away the glaciers heaped over the curbs and sidewalks. We've yet to have that glorious evening when the temperatures stay well above freezing all night long, but even so the crusty mounds of ice are now shrinking by the hour. Soon, they'll have vanished entirely from the visible city streets, and it will only be deep in the back alleys in the canyons between tall buildings where the ice will continue to live. Most years, a bit of ice lives back there until early June.
The 6:00 pm city this time of year looks much different in broad daylight. But although clearly Spring is coming, what I saw as I looked out the bus windows in detached reverie last night is not pure growth and renewal, but a strange sort of dance between the energies of creation and of decay.
Everywhere I look there is creation and decay existing side by side. New buildings are sprouting while other buildings are corroding away. On some of the existing buildings, new roofs or siding are coalescing, even as the old materials are sloughing away. In some of the buildings, businesses have decayed and died, while new businesses take shape and move in. This is true of all businesses. Even Microsoft will one day fade away, as did TWA and other monster corporations before it.
The sun itself is decaying beautiful ice formations, even as it is warming the flesh of trees and prompting them toward new buds. We pass by a beautiful brick building that is being gradually eaten by the new creation of thick vines that have sprouted up and are enveloping the structure with greenery that will gradually devour the mortar.
We pass by a small park on Bryant Avenue, and on the sidewalk a bright young mother pushing an infant in a stroller briskly passes by an ancient woman walking with a cane in tiny steps, her bowed head nearly hidden by a thick scarf tied beneath her chin. I am struck by the fact that these two women are closely related, that they depend on one another for the reality of who they are at this very moment.
The dance between decay and creation is so close, so intimate, that it is virtually sexual. The two energies could not possibly be separated.
There is nothing whatsoever qualitative about this truth. It simply is what it is, and for that reason is completely noble and elegant. All our judgments and preferences for creation over decay are human conceits alone, and have no bearing on the truth of the world. The fact that human beings often are pleased by newness and freshness and repulsed by decay is entirely irrelevant. The fact that we may be attracted to a fresh young baby and repulsed by the specter of aging and death says nothing about one being preferable to the other.
At most, this human preference is merely a manifestation of the universe's creative energy. The fact that we like newness is nothing more than the universe's creative energy channeling through us. The energy of decay also flows through us, since it may also be common for us to decry change, to prefer seasoned age over plastic newness. Perhaps even our occasionally self-destructive behavior is nothing more than a natural expression of the energy of decay.
The world takes on a different appearance in this frame of mind. There is a certain beauty in decay, as it is the natural forerunner to creative newness. A building facade ornamented with a vandal's colorful grafitti is not inherently much different than the same store front painted with the admonishment of a store owner to COME IN AND BUY. A pot-holed, cracked street isn't particularly ugly, but a promise that some day the earth will reclaim the tarmac and cover it over with meadows. An elderly gentleman, stooped with arthritis, causes me to imagine his possible grandchildren, who at this moment may be growing at the same rate this old fellow is fading.
There is no reason to pass judgment on this fact. It is what it is, and is hence beautiful and perfect.