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Beauty & The Mad March of Time

The natural progression of all things toward death is what makes them beautiful.

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My brother may be a great photographer but he’s an even better model…

I watched out the window as the city of Philadelphia shrunk beneath us. No matter how many flights I take, there are still a few knots in my stomach which refuse to give up wondering Will this be the one? Will this finally be the flight that ends it all?

Some of you may fly a lot, while others rarely or never. I used to love the romantic notion of flying. I used to write a dozen poems per flight, as the idea of flying thousands of miles in a mere few hours was (and is) truly magical.

Nowadays, I plug into my podcasts and try to fall asleep before we touch down.

I think all human beings find a lot whimsy in novelty.

The first kiss is so much more magical than the 1,528th.

So is the first dance or the first time in a new city.

I remember the first time I went swing dancing in an ancient castle in Chicago. It was October, 2012 and I will never forget that night as long as I live. The windows were open, allowing in a crisp fall breeze and after a few songs, my friends and I retreated out to the balcony overlooking the city from behind a low stone wall. The entire night could have been straight out of an early two thousands chick flick, it was that magical.

But then we went a few weeks later.

And a few weeks after that.

And by the fifth or sixth time, the magic was slipping away. All that beauty of freshness and newness had somehow slipped through our fingers and gotten away from us.

Time marched madly on.

Now I’m flying home from a family vacation to New Jersey. I’ve been making this trip since I was born, so the traditions and memories from Ocean City run deep in my blood. However, the older I get, the more I see the same thing happening. The magic is slipping away from this tourist trap I once beheld as utopia.

When I was 4, the annual trip to New Jersey contained a sort of magic that has only been captured in pencil-illustrated children’s books. But now that I’m older, I see the town as less magical and more money-grabby. Not that I don’t enjoy the time with my family and the natural wonder of the ocean, but the trip itself is less…whimsical.

A few weeks ago, I was driving and listening to August Burns Red’s song Echoes. I think it may be their all-time masterpiece. There is one part of the song, about a 30-second clip toward the end, which encapsulates all good things about the genre: Power, emotion, brutality, harmony, et al.

I found myself wishing I could just pause the song and somehow dwell in that moment of raw power and emotion. I wanted to stretch the feeling of those 30 seconds out into a shelter and build myself a home.

But of course I can’t.

You have similar songs. There is a certain line or note that simply speaks to you in some way far richer than words. You wish you could simply put that hook or chorus on repeat and stay there. You just want to soak up the realness in her voice right there, or find a way to encapsulate the crescendo of this one song.

But you can’t.

And the reason we can’t capture the beauty of those musical moments is that time is a necessary component of song. Without time, you don’t have a melody, you just have one note. Without time, you don’t have lyrics, you just have one syllable uttered eternally.

Without time, there is no beauty.

My aging grandfather drove me to the airport an hour ago. I remember when he used to play football with our family, and now he can hardly get in or out of his van—the one with the handicap plates. I think of his weakening body and the various ailments which have seized it and made his hands shake uncontrollably.

My throat swells at 30,000 feet.

A few months ago, my roommate from college explained to me why he cried at our friend’s wedding.

“Some things are just too beautiful to behold and the only response is to weep.”

My grandfather is aging and will not live on this earth forever. There is great sadness in that, but there is also great beauty. He is a great man and his life, as it rises and falls, will have been utterly spectacular.

Just as a song rises and falls, time leads its progression and there is beauty in this progression.

The natural progression of all things is what makes them beautiful.

This is why I still cannot get over the film Logan. While most of her superheroes exist in a timeless universe, Marvel chose to show the progression of time and the persistence of age in one of her brightest sons, Wolverine. The beauty of the film comes from the idea that all things age; all things die. And I think the reason this film brought me to tears is because it realizes this truth so graphically.

There is true, real beauty in this progression of time.

That is why the wisest man to ever live, Solomon, wrote that beauty is fleeting. As I continue the endless search for my bride, it’s hard not to be distracted by timely beauty: The look of her face or body as it rests in time right now. It’s much harder to peer through the exterior and see the things that will truly last; the parts of her which will grow more and more beautiful with time. The things that I will want holding me when I weep or when my body begins to break down. The parts of her that I will want by my side even when all her present beauty has faded.

Time kills all things. But it also reveals their deepest, most painful beauty.

This is why certain parts of those songs are so freaking powerful. But then the song ends. The experience is over and we move on. And you go to bed and wake up in the boring silence of dawn into another day which has never happened before.

I wonder if a lot of the human struggle is a battle against this time. We try so hard to hold onto things in their present forms that we miss the real beauty of them—the fact that they are dying like the rest of us. The monstrous crescendo of your favorite song will eventually fade out, just like you will someday.

Maybe this is why we all love photographs so much: They hold the ability to freeze a split second of time in a manageable fashion you can always look back upon.

People in LA pay thousands of dollars to look like they did when they were younger instead of embracing the authentic beauty of age. We want to remember the magic of a concert by preserving it on our phones, but of course these tinny representations do little to convey the magic of the experience.

So what is the solution? It seems like we are fighting a losing battle as we wage war on the the foe of time.

Perhaps the answer is not to battle time, but to find her beauty. Embrace that magical song as it passes by you in your headphones yet again. Enjoy your friends in their present state, instead of wishing they were the way they used to be back then.

Time marches madly on.

I wonder if heaven is the summation of all of these passing blips we experience when we hear a great song or hold a baby as it falls asleep. C.S. Lewis notes that these things are simply tastes of what is to come. The difference is, in this world, they come and go. They are not permanent. I can’t help but think that heaven is simply an eternity of dwelling in those magical moments. The ones we only wish we could hold onto in this life.

May we be people who age well; a people who suck the life out of every passing second rather than longing for the past or diving into the future. May we learn to recognize the beauty of time as she whizzes past us; the slow-walking seductress leading us to our graves.



7 comments on “Beauty & The Mad March of Time

  1. Alea Peister

    Hello Ethan!

    I liked this post – it’s something I think about too. I’m not sure how helpful this is, but I noticed that you wrote, “Without time, there is no beauty.” It was the only sentence that made me uncomfortable because God, whose existence exceeds and is the source of time, epitomizes Beauty in Himself. Perhaps what you were thinking about is how we can only conceive of and understand beauty as a temporal thing because we are time-bound creatures, and our understanding is limited to time-bound terms. Language and thought break down when we try to think of existence and its qualities (such as beauty) apart from time. Which makes utter release – freedom from attempts to grasp something we cannot claim (i.e., Beauty in its eternal form) – part of the glory we feel when we Beauty is communicated to us in time.

    I’ve found this quotation from Chesterton’s *Orthodoxy* quite helpful in thinking about time and beauty – perhaps you will, too. Also, if you’ve got some extra reading time maybe try Marilynne Robinson’s *Gilead.*

    But I really liked your post. Such an interesting, profound thing to think about – the painful glory of beauty known in time. And fascinating to ponder why and how beauty, which is good, can be such a *painfully* good thing.

    Thanks for your time! 🙂


  2. Beautifully written and insightful. Love this piece. 🙂

  3. Amazing. I will never think of a song the same way again.

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