I’ve realized that I think about life as if the journey were like climbing a tree.
A tree begins with a trunk then splits into limbs which then split into branches which, in turn split into more branches which then split into twigs (and the green grass grows all around, all around). When climbing a tree, the climber reaches a series of intersections at which point this climber must decide which branch to climb onto next. At the end of a climb, I might be sitting on a vastly different branch than someone who climbed the same tree on the same day.
The issue that I have with tree climbing is that I panic every time I hit an intersection. When I’m standing at the base of the tree, I can see the whole thing. I have endless possibilities. Not all the branches are within my reach, but they all could be. But as soon as I make a decision, some of those possibilities disappear.
If I decide to be a business major, I can no longer “be anything that I want to be.” I am limited in my opportunities to become a ballerina or a nurse or a black ops agent. I fear making decisions because I fear that I will regret them; I fear shutting doors because I don’t know if I’ll like the window that God opens. What if it’s on the second story? What if it’s too small?
Here’s the thing. Robert Frost has this poem that you’ve probably heard if you’ve ever read The Outsiders (which you should) or you’ve ever been in a 7th grade literature class.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
That’s the trouble with me. I want everything to stay gold. I’m the crazy lady who picks a flower then rushes to Home Depot to buy fertilizer and Miracle Gro, talking to the man behind the counter to find out the secret to agricultural eternal life, sanitizing my kitchen so that not a single hoo-doo voo-doo floral disease will attack my precious plant, Googling the proper amount of sunlight and rebuilding my kitchen to accommodate, never realizing that the flower actually died three days ago.
You can’t hold on to every cup of coffee forever. If you don’t drink it, it will get cold. If you keep trying to pretend that your daughter is still an infant, your experience as a parent chaperone on that next field trip is going to be a little awkward. If you lie crying on the floor outside your ex-boyfriend’s apartment, dripping with snot and mascara while you continue to scream incoherent things about the way he smells like Old Spice, someone might mistake you for a crazy person.
It’s okay when beautiful moments pass away. It just means that they were real, that they were gold. We’ve all put a lightning bug in a jar, expecting it to light up our bedside table for the rest of forever, as long as we poke holes in the lid. But eventually, the light goes out. And we can’t waste our lives trying to resuscitate dead lightning bugs.
Here’s another thing. We can love those gold moments while they live, because when they live, they shine. Sometimes they flame out in a blaze of glory. Sometimes they glow and crackle and go out in a puff of smoke. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, they’re like that frozen moment when you jump off a swing and time seems to stop, like if you wanted to scratch your knee in midair it would be a very real possibility because you have years until your butt will hit the ground.
But eventually, all of our butts hit the ground. Summer vacation ends. We break up. J.K. Rowling stops writing Harry Potter books. The bath water gets cold. The ice cream scoop scrapes the bottom of the box. We realize that we’re about to break curfew. We graduate from college.
Someday, we’ve got this promise of a glory land, a place where our forever will be golden. But in this life, Eden sank to grief. Leaf subsides to leaf. We can only hold on to the eternal and know that the fleeting beautiful moments of this world are just tiny buds that flower and die on the tree of life. Maybe we can’t climb to every branch on the tree while we putter around as the mere psychotic mortals that we are, but making some progress is better than standing, anxiety-ridden, at the bottom of the tree while everyone else works their way from branch to branch.
So what? So the world isn’t perfect. So beautiful things don’t last forever. So we can’t just push the pause button when we feel like our life is right where we want it. Constant motion. Doesn’t that make the adventure an adventure?
When one moment subsides, be assured that there will be another. Life is a bunch of golden moments, strung together, building a ladder to eternity that will crumble in the presence of something of which these moments are only crude caveman drawings. Life was built to be lived. So live it. And realize what you’re doing. Don’t let those golden moments pass you by—grab onto them with all your might, squeeze them between your teeth if you have to. But know when it’s time to let them go.
Here’s the last thing. Look backward with a happy heart. Look out for what’s in front of you. And for now, climb that next branch and look forward to the resurrection day, when gold comes to stay.
Lauren (Boersma) Harris (’13) is a spontaneous, idealistic, independent, fierce, over-thinking, damaged, adventurous, ordinary megalomaniac with a healthy sense of self-worth and a high word count. She has been a teacher both indoors and outdoors; she loves improvised comedy, backpacking, and writing, even when it’s required.