Júlia Both


Hands, Bdays & the Inevitability of Death


My birthday is tomorrow, & this week I was busy painting a mural. At some point I sat in the asphalt near the wall to have a break. I looked down at my paint stained hands, realising that I see them so much but rarely take good notice of them.

It was as if for a second I became more aware than usual, being able to see them in detail, all the folds and lines and the subtle blue of the blood vessels under pink skin. And suddenly I had the realisation that for the rest of my life I'd only see this view: the view from inside my own body, looking forward to my immediate surroundings, a view framed and interrupted by the same hands. I realised that my hands would make countless more art pieces, but only the art pieces that I could conceive, in my limited view, tainted by my experiences and expectations. That I could climb mountains and hold flowers with my hands, but only those that I choose to climb and hold, an insignificant percentage of all the flowers and mountains that exist because there would never be enough time in a life to climb and hold all of them.

I stare at the night sky often, even thought I live in an inner city area where you can only see the brightest stars. I see the same constellations I could see from my home in Brazil when I was young, and it makes me feel like home is not that far away. I think about how those stars have been there long before anyone was born, and how they'll probably still be there long after the last person dies. I look at the faint dots of the moons of Jupiter with my binoculars. I think about how no human that has ever lived has walked on them. I use my hands to block the glare from the street lights from my field of vision, and stare at a star that changes colour as it twinkles, from blue to red to yellow. I try to hold the concept of star in my mind: gigantic gas ball so far away that I'm seeing an image of its distant past. I try, but I can't, the words describing star ring hollow in my brain, I can only marvel at how much I can't really comprehend it. 

My grandmother once told me this story her father told her. He told her that he was in the bus and he saw the reflection of a hand in the window, and he thought "what an ugly old hand that is". Then he realised that the hand he was looking at was his own. I thought about how that might happen to me, decades from now. I wondered how it'd feel to know that you are at the end of your very life, and not being able to escape that reality because your hands are always in front of you, reminding you of how old you are. I wonder how I will cope when it is my turn. I wonder how anyone manages to go through life in a sane, coordinated fashion, knowing that everyone they've ever loved will be dead soon. I wonder if we all engage in spiritual pursuits as a defence mechanism.

As I repot a plant in my garden, I feel the moisture of the dark earth seeping through the fabric of the gloves, the last gift grandma gave me before she passed away last year. Tiny pink gloves with a flower pattern print. I think about how once these gloves were filled by her warm hands, and how her hands and every other part of her body are now earth again. I try hard to understand how someone that was so concrete, that I saw and held and laughed with, is no longer here, no longer anywhere, how someone could simply cease to be. 

I think about how I am here, 23 years after leaving the womb of the person that came from my grandmother's own womb, how everything I am came to be through a succession of people coming together in very specific ways and living the seemingly important drama of their short human lives together. I think about how important all the people in my life are to me and to each other, and how unimportant we are in the grand scheme of the Universe we inhabit.

I finish repotting my plant and painting my art piece.

I constantly wonder why I bother doing anything. And particularly why anyone would bother celebrating birthdays and getting older. 

Deep down I know why: It's because the joy of witnessing the beauty and complexity of the Universe overwhelms the knowledge that our experience of it must end soon.

I've had 23 years of joy and hopefully still have many more, and that's something worth partying for. Happy birthday to me.