Essay Option 1. "At present you need to live the question." - Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from the German by Joan M. Burnham.
Inspired by Sarah Marikar, a third-year in the College
A pale green leaf skims the floor and, for a second, is lifted by the short, stagnant breath of God, and the next, let go, plummeting downward and raking the rough soil with its veins, long since dried, empty, and hollow.
Why does the tree reach upward, clasping only that which is above? Why does the tree branch fragment outward, bearing fruit that so willingly embraces the earth?
Once, before man, in the great absence of all things, except one, or rather two, there existed two seeds. These were no special seeds- round, a rough, despondent, monochromatic brown, unconscious of the world, and, like all seeds, too intrigued with their own pulsating, pure, unperturbed kernel of nothingness. Nonetheless, they were the world, and all that the world could claim, and so the world fed them, from the crack of birth to the hymn of death. However, because there is no meaning after their death, let us begin with their birth.
The rigid walls of the seeds, like canyons, pierced the darkness, valleys, filled from bottom with being, beat with the inklings of existence, the intimation of beginning, and the beginning of end. One crack lined the outside wall of the seeds, moved downward, with slow, unsure footsteps and circled its globe, splinting off once with uncertainty, twice with incredulity, and again and again, until finally, with the lust for autonomy and crags and shards too many to count, the seed relented, and burst open. This was the seeds' beginning, but still, here, we can find no meaning, no sustenance. So then, let us move to their life, that center point of the bridge. Yes, for surely in life, surely in existence, we can find some meaning.
As wings burst open, cut in half like a dove, flooded with light, the seeds tasted the hellish heaven of the air, of existence, and of beginning. Hunched over, like babes not yet sure of their own breath, staring only at the brownish-red soil, heavy and rich, clumped in myriad indistinguishable wholes that were in themselves only parts of the world, the bud shaped heads of the trees looked downward. And from there the two seeds, born the same, gave breath to their first words, together.
At that, from that which was, the world, there blew past the two trees, still nothing but words, and dust, and leaves, up the hooked stem, a gentle breeze, a soft whisper, a sigh of relief- for that moment the trees began true existence. Years past, and the blood red-brown soil nourished the tree, as its bud, opening like a Venus fly trap, grasped and swallowed that above it, its twisted spine straightened and at the same time extended outward and upward, and its roots moved from capillaries to vessels, sucking dry that under it- but, still, not deep and never far, it was content with just the flesh of the soil. When, again, years past, and the trees now had the beginnings of bark, a thin carpet on their trunks, again the seeds spoke, softly, though, and still uncertain.
"We have grown strong," the first said.
"Yes," the second said.
"But still, I have grown stronger than you," the first said.
And at this, the second shrugged, swaying brittle leaves back and forth, up and down.
"Surely you cannot believe such a thing," said the second.
"But it is true," said the first.
"Fine, let us test it," said the second, "race me to the sky."
"Ha!" haughtily replied the first. "Fine, but know you will lose."
"We will see," said the second.
And again, at that, from that which was, the world, there blew past the two trees, still nothing but words, and dust, and leaves, up the straight stem, a gentle breeze, a sickly whisper, an abject sigh of stupor- for at that moment, as a means to measure themselves against the other, the trees grew that they may touch to sky.
For immemorial years, countless, the trees grew and stretched outward, leaped forward, that they may cradle the clouds. And when, again, years past, their trunks grew a heavy, brittle bark, each layer thinner than the next, their leaves, once a crisp green, were refined to the point of degeneracy and grew thin, given only the sparsest water, and their roots disintegrated to capillaries, just enough to fund their practice. And so, they existed, until finally, as an answer to all things- the world's answer to all things- death was born into the world, and the first seed died- never having touched the sky, never having swallowed the sun.
Now the second seed, still alive, no longer had any purpose to reach the sky. And having no meaning in the pursuit, sat idle, still, and was surrounded by decay. And again the years past, and the young, tall tree grew old- his trunk descending downward like a question mark, and having found no meaning chasing clouds, he concentrated his attentions and found meaning on that below, the world. His roots descended deep, past the flesh-deep troughs into unknown chasms beneath, unspoken gorges below. And his branches now, having, before, deteriorated to the very clouds he sought, grew outward, farther, as an extension of the inner, bearing the most beautiful fruit of the sweetest nectar. But the tree was still dying, hunched and crooked, surrounded and filled with decay. And so, under the weight of his own reality, he, too, evaporated from life. And in this way he died, bent and broken, hunched and abject-alive and kissing the edge of the sky.
And so, you sit there, questioning how you must "live the question", asking which pursuit was the better- the second seed stressing the imminent or the first searching and praising the transcendent. The processes of life are bitter and cruel, but subtle and significant. The lives that we create for ourselves have an unlimited possibility of truths and an infinite number of meanings, but in the end, by "living" the question, by "existing," we inevitably develop our own answers. There exists no way of measuring which among our meanings, what among our answers, was the right choice, but that we have the ability to "live it" and decide for ourselves is why this life is so beautiful. Form your essence after you have existed, after you have lived.
The leaf tumbles forward, first on its back and again on its feet-pushed forward by sublunary will and the stagnant breath of God.