We went back to the Japanese Garden last week. The sky was grey, an iridescent grey only a painter could think up. Or a poet. The kind of sky that can often be seen glistening over the roofs of Paris, my hometown. We walked the moss-lined paths, taking it all in: the carousing camelias, the budding bushes, the greening grass.
On our last visit summer was ending. Turtles were lined up on narrow reefs, soaking up the weakening sun. Kois were swarming the shores of the pond, gaping mouths held above water, begging for treats before winter’s long slumber. Leaves were turning. Our family was whole.
I wish time could be dialed back. When I was ten or eleven, my older brother -who was reading philosophy at school- explained to me one day that Time didn’t actually exist, that it was a human construct. I was appalled and indignant and to this day, even though I understand the concept intellectually (I read philosophy too when my turn came), I still don’t find it relevant or helpful. For me, life is ALL about Time.
Winter is waning and color slowly infusing the garden again. Time is marching on… If it were reversible, I could accept the idea that we invented it. But it isn’t and transience rules. I didn’t always know that. I remember thinking when I was very young (maybe three or four) that parents were parents and kids were kids and would remain so forever. I was actually happy to belong to the kid category because, for some reason, I knew that it was the parents’ job to pay the bills and that it was sometimes tough. But I learned otherwise soon after: my next Time-related memory is figuring out how long I would have to wait to turn eighteen (that’s how old my mom had said I had to be to start wearing lipstick). Time was slow then.
The garden cycles through the seasons. Our family is held in a wrinkle of Time. Both ineluctably moving forward and irresistibly held back. Grief is our connection to Noah. To the family that once was. There is no going back but there is no letting go either.
We are woven of strands of Time and held together by the ties that bind us. When a knot comes loose, we unravel. My mother grieved for seventy-two years for a baby she carried for nine months and knew for thirty-six hours. He was her first-born. Her last thought was of him.
However much I rebel against the irreversibility of Time, Noah won’t be coming back to my daughter’s arms and I know she will grieve for him till she draws her last breath. Hers is a sorrow that will never abate.
The garden remains. A light breeze carries the effluves of spring. In the pond, the turtles are still sluggish but they hold their heads above water like tiny periscopes. The kois swim aimlessly. They can’t start eating until the water warms up and their digestive systems kick into action again. Eating now would kill them and they know it. But fasting is clearly not as much fun as feasting. They look bored. I guess Time can be slow for a fish too.
We circle the pond and wander the paths of the garden. Time marches on. There is no going back to what was. But the sky is suitably grey and the grass stubbornly green. Serenity washes over us like high tide over bruised shores. It comes and goes, forever elusive but still a comfort. Like a mirage in a desert.
(The photos above have been taken on three separate visits, one in April last year, some at the end of August, others last week.)