This Side of Eternity
by Pavithra Mehta, Feb 27, 2023
One weekend they went to look at houses on the market and she unexpectedly discovered an ability that she had not known she possessed—the ability to walk into a house and sense if its past owner was living or not. Now in theory, this sounds like a faintly unpleasant if not downright morbid skill. Not nearly as amiable for instance, as the ability to knit argyle sweaters or play the ukulele. But in practice she found it to be an oddly sweet faculty. The soft crackling feeling that would settle around her shoulders like a magic cloak as she ran her hand across a tiled kitchen counter, felt a floorboard creak underfoot, or as she gazed out a bedroom window at the view someone had awakened to for 60 years. The feeling of being enveloped in a presence that was absent—of something or someone simultaneously here, and also not.
Her husband smiled the first time she whispered the feeling to him. And then the real estate agent confirmed it. When this happened a second and third time, he nodded his head thoughtfully.
And she began to consider the things we leave behind in daily life, in daily ways without deeply considering them. Only because we believe—the way we believe the sky will not cave in on our heads—that we can go back for things whenever we want to. But none of that is true, is it?
No. Sometimes the sky caves in. And no one can really ever go back. No matter how much they want to. No matter how much they left behind. This is what renders thingishness so precious—despite the bad rap it gets in lofty circles. Lofty circles tend to pride themselves on a preference for the intangible.
What they forget in their earnestness, she realized, is that life is the only place in the universe where we get to experience both. Granted, when you are intangible you are invincible. But what is invincibility worth in a world without interruptions, inclement weather, innkeepers or inkfish? Invincibility without tangibility is redundant. Like sunscreen lotion in Plato’s cave.
When you are tangible it’s given to you to dabble in the intangible. But when you’re intangible, your dabbling days are over. So are your days of dawdling, dueling and decorating cakes. And this may seem counterintuitive, but so are your days of doing nothing.
When you are intangible, doing nothing is no longer on the menu. Menus are no longer on the menu. So if you harbor a fondness for doodling, or a yearning for yodeling—if you are pining for pine-scented trails, have a passion for passionfruit, a hankering for pressed handkerchiefs, or just the simple desire to jump to a conclusion, fish for a compliment, forgive a trespass, retrieve your soul, or go salsa dancing at sunset, you’d best be advised to press your advantage while you are tangible. Undertakings and undertakers work best on this side of eternity.
When it comes time to be intangible none of it comes with… not the favorite brass lamp or the flowering plum tree, not the love notes, not the lover, nor the long twilights of summer.
This is not by any means a new thought. But it can be a shockingly new realization.
And all this being so, if that were you then, stepping with no feet, off the edge of this world, and into the nameless next, wouldn’t you, too, choose to float one last time at your bedroom window? And if you happened to find someone standing there with dreaming eyes—just as you used to—wouldn’t you, too, find a way to tap her lightly on the shoulder? Wouldn’t you, too, find a way of telling someone, before you go, to enjoy it all—this singular world of dreams, of views, of eyes and shoulders, of touch, and light? Ω