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  • Writer's pictureErin Clark

Beauty is Contagious

Updated: Mar 25, 2020

My little brother died on March 18th, 2012. I wrote him a letter when he died and kept writing him a letter on the same day every year. It has always helped me say things that otherwise felt stuck. He was not a writer, he liked dirt bikes. But somehow, it feels like he gives me words. Here is this year’s letter.

Dear Jesse,

I’m not sure how to explain what’s happening in the world right now, because… it won’t sound real. Plus, you are already dead, so the sheer intensity of fear and grief and uncertainty may not have the same weight for you as it does for us. And by ‘us,’ I mean the entire planet. And by ‘weight,’ I mean there’s a virus literally sweeping the globe that kills by drowning the air out of your lungs and making your organs shut down -- and those of us not dying from it feel somewhat like the air is being drowned out of our lungs and our vital organs are shutting down. Cities and countries are also shutting down. In France, you can be fined for leaving your house without an appropriate reason. I told you, it doesn’t sound real. You know that feeling when you have to keep re-realizing life-changing bad news? You forget and then remember again? We’re doing that as a collective. Everything will be fine/this is actually happening. It feels like sloshing water back and forth in a bottle. you can move the weight from end to end, but it’s heavy the whole time.

I live in an apartment building in a city in Ontario instead of anywhere in the bush, which I consider an oversight on the part of past Erin. My friend Trish lives in a forest in Nova Scotia 1970,7Km away.  This morning she sent me a bunch of pictures and videos of her forest. The sunlight dancing on the stream that runs through her backyard. The water trickling gently over fallen branches, the stones, and dead leaves and mud visible in the river bed. Snow melting off evergreens, the droplets flashing in the light as they fell with an audible thickness. The forest had a smooshed, just-woke-up look, probably a lot like my face, as her texts were the first thing I saw this morning.

“I was thinking of you the whole time,” Trish texted. “What would you notice and what would you love. I never would have been looking at it so carefully if it wasn’t for you.”  I had done nothing but be in bed and love trees a lot. Beauty is contagious, even over great distances. Or was it attention she caught? The two are linked so closely, I can’t determine which one is which.

Attention is hard right now. Beauty makes me feel things. And I’m caught between two opposing parts of my nature. How much I love to experience things and how much I like how control feels; pragmatic and chilly with a touch of dissociation, like my spirit is keeping a meter away, in the style of social distancing.

I have a pile of tarot decks (about 10 or so) at the foot of my bed, and every morning, I pull a couple cards from each of them. I like the colors. I like the way random cards from completely different decks created by totally different artists can fall into certain patterns. This morning, the orange-red wings depicted on the back of an angel in the Temperance card of one deck was the exact same shade as the corona around the sun in The Sun card of another deck. And the rectangular shapes on the Judgement card of one deck rhymed with the pillars of the Death card in an unrelated deck.

Yes. I pulled the death card on the anniversary of your death. It's also the death card in the middle of an actual pandemic.

What’s strange, though, is that this particular deck has an image on *both* sides of the card. There is a dark side; Death, wearing full body armor, is astride a white horse whose eyes are fire, the only light in the entire scene. Death’s black flag billows in a dark sky, smoky with storm clouds. We see the backs of two men who shiver and kneel in supplication before Death. This is kind of the usual image of the death card in tarot. “Don’t panic,” tarot readers say to their clients when it shows up in a reading. "It doesn’t mean *literal* death. Death is a metaphor. Release what no longer serves, etc."  The querent relaxes and the reading proceeds.

But I pulled the flip side. A literal bright side of death? Too soon, tarot.

A giant yellow sun sets in the center of the card and a naked woman dances under it in the background. She reaches up to it, perhaps to welcome it’s setting. Who is she? the horse? Is *she* Death? Death could very possibly be a naked woman under all that armor. She’s blissful in it, whoever she is. On either side of the sun, in the foreground are two pillars which the two men now sit against, facing forward, not looking at the dancing naked woman who is not the least bit concerned by them. She has rapturing to do. And the men, presumably, have mortality to contemplate. They sit, each holding a flower. One a lily, the other a lotus. And they are calm and serene. Did they die or were they spared, and in that brush with death, find some perspective that brings them serenity? Or, are they gathering themselves at the gateway between what was known and the uncertainty of tomorrow? Gathering like you would in the calm before a storm. The storm of us shivering in terror on our knees at looming and mysterious  *actual-not-metaphorical* death.

I don’t know. And, I stopped caring. I lose interest quickly when my spirit is distant, I need it embodied to be passionate or interested in things. And i’m uncharacteristically annoyed with meaning at the moment. So I just left the cards spread out at the end of my bed and made coffee and ate quesadillas (home made by a friend) for breakfast. I drank my coffee and looked at the cards still spread out on my bed and got curious again. I flipped through the guidebook and, about my sunny death card, it said; “This is the scene from Death’s perspective, asses it as such."

I thought of you, who is dead, and therefore have death’s perspective. You’re looking at these two men sitting at the gateway to a field, maybe they are guardians. But why would you care? Why look at *this* scene?  Where a woman… wait. could she be me? My spirit outside of me —a kind of death—  and I am both sides of this metaphor of releasing and embracing uncertainty and change. Two opposing aspects of myself? Cold and terrible on one side and brightly undaunted on the other.

I watched the videos Trish sent me again. Not just for the nature in them, but now also for her presence, her attention, her spirit. I watched her by where she chose to focus the camera, the little delights, a flash of her dog sitting politely on the other side of the river, lingering on the glistening, a photo of the pattern of snow melt across the wood planks of her bridge (It looks like a a leopard print).  Summoning beauty *because* of me, but also, feeding it to me, detail by detail.

I miss you, Jesse.


Your big sister

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