A college-aged boy in a white T-shirt and jeans stands in front of a crowded room. His round Asian face looks towards the white pull-down screen in the center of the classroom wall. An unused microphone rests in his left hand. The room is dim, the only light source comes from the projection itself, which is a picture of the same boy, in another place, a different time. The boy in the photo is in a light filled greenhouse. His hard city mask has fallen and he beams into the camera, holding a red ripe tomato in each hand. In the dark room, down a windowless hall in the basement of the science building, the boy looks at another self. He cannot recognize himself. He brought the slides, he practiced the presentation, but the face that appears to be his own is a stranger.
Who is that? he wonders. He is without the requisite white bandana and required mask. The boy in the room has been overtaken by death. He stares with eyes blinking. He looks, searching, searching for the self he now knows. Searching for…something. The projected photograph is a sudden flash…something used to be different. For a moment, maybe as quick as the snap of the shutter, he was different. He smiled because of tomatoes. His fingers were dirty and his car was useless and all his friends and family were miles away. He was no one to the soil, no one to the trees. But he coaxed life from a seed. And life was given. Birth happened, and the tomatoes were proof.
The photo which he stares at now with strange curiosity, is a reminder of another life, one that faded the moment he left the greenhouse. A tarot card drifts to the floor. The boy doesn’t see it, he doesn’t feel its subtle wind. It lays facing up, a skeleton in armor tramples all with his horse. The flag of death waves in the red sky. A fallen king lies next to his forgotten gold crown, two children weep at the feet of the white stallion. Are they in the path? Is the horse’s shoe a moment from their heads?
The boy with the microphone does not see the fluttering death flag beside his own head. The stench of his physical death will take years, but this is just as foreign. It’s like looking at his own corpse, except…it is not. His corpse looks at the being left behind. The being forgotten, flowering just for a moment. Open and light-filled and caught forever. Caught for a moment that will always exist, even if it has moved beyond the recognizable.
Death came uninvited. Death came when the boy began to think, when he began to be “himself.” When he returned to life as though nothing had happened. When he got into his car, put on his bandana, and tried to explain his experience. But death happened. A moment of sudden life had exploded out of the rotting experience of a machine, and that moment lives on in the photo. It lives in the dim room, lives in the moment. It is the reminder that flowers can bloom in the mud, that a burst of lighting can cause a fire. But the boy standing with the microphone is a reminder that death is never far away. It is ready, with horse and flag and armor, ready to snatch it all.
The class waits expectantly for the explanation of the photo, the description of his experience and the things he learned. But there are no words for the captured moment. No words that can describe the bliss of creativity and birth. Nothing to explain the smile and the love of two tomatoes and the energy of a being spilling forth. The class is silent, waiting for the unexplainable to be explained.