Growing up, I always felt a terrible sense of insecurity when thinking about the impermanence of life. Somewhere between puberty and my high school graduation, I had adopted the mindset that life was a battle to be fought. I watched as the years slipped by and relationships faded—their original magic swallowed by a tidal wave of stress and anxiety. Learning multiplication sets turned into memorizing calorie counts. Reading for pleasure turned into screaming magazine headlines about getting the perfect beach-body. Sweet Sixteen parties and prom woes were put on the back-burner for hospital visits and wakes. Gratitude was exchanged for a sense of pity—“How could this happen to me?”
And so, I struggled and fought (incredibly hard) against the brute facts of reality. Life was unapologetic and fleeting. And I couldn’t accept this truth. More honestly, I refused to.
I still remember the day I first learned about the death of an old friend, Branden Meyers. I was finishing up a double shift at my college’s radio station my freshman year, when the request line rang. I picked up the receiver, only to hear the uncontrollable sobbing of a former high school classmate, Abbi. “He was in a car crash. He’s gone, Marissa. Branden is gone,” she wailed.
I rushed out of the radio studio, desperately seeking a place to clear my head. But outside the reality was just as unforgiving—the sun’s rays were harsh against my unbelieving eyes, and the air was far too cold and dense to let my thoughts float away.
Branden was my first crush. To be fair, I think he was my entire friend group’s first crush. He was incredibly hilarious (and good-looking), unforgettably kind and irresistibly charming. There were so many things that drew me to Branden, but I will always remember him most for his daring nature. I loved and admired his audacity to be as big and radiant as he was.
“How could his light go out this early?” I asked everyone I knew for the answer. I looked—no, I begged—for a sign. Anything that would make Branden’s death more than just a tragedy.
I spent the next week stumbling around—confused and hurt, harboring resentment and bitterness towards life—until my boyfriend at the time gave me just what I needed: a reality-check. “This is just the way things go, Marissa. It’s not personal. For each of us, it will end. It will all end. Some people are allowed to postpone this reality for longer than others. But eventually, everything and everyone will fall apart.”
With those words, I felt like someone had just punched me in the stomach. I knew it was true. I felt it was true. And all I could manage to do in that moment was break down crying.
But this time, tears were not shed for life’s perceived injustices. Or even over my own hurt.
I cried because I was finally free to let go. Face-to-face with the eternal truth, I chose to end my game of hide-and-seek and open the door to healing.
Suddenly it hit me—There really is nothing radically wrong with change, or even with the death of emotions and memories, as well as the physical body. Who said we were supposed to survive this anyway? Who gave me the idea that all things were built to go on forever? After all these years, I can’t possibly say that permanence would even be a good thing. For everything I have missed, I have gained something else. For everything I have lost, I have only made more room for wonder, imagination and magic.
And so, today I can say that without an ounce of tragedy, life is loss. That even the most rooted structures in our lives are transitory. That everything will change. That trying to hold on will cause more suffering. That letting go will hurt like hell, but the pain will move through you instead of lodging inside.
The single thing I wish for myself, and for you, is that we regard the poetry present all around us with open arms. It’s not ours to keep. Nothing is. And there in lies the beauty of life.