Blood on the Rose, Part B

John stood next to the mahogany coffin casting his gaze first to his beloved Sophia, then to the painting erected on an easel behind where her head lay. It looked as fragile as his beautiful wife, except there was power in the pictures – the bright red petals, the solid green stem with wicked little thorns … and the blood. It was his blood in the painting, dripping from one of the thorns. Sophia had performed quite exquisitely in this, her last painting.

The rose he had plucked for his soulmate had died. The flowers in their garden had all died. Sophia had died. Everything around John was death … except, perhaps, for the artistic creation that, for some mysterious reason, seemed to speak so resonantly and compellingly to his heart. This was probably an emotional response to the fact that this was her last painting … but no, John knew better.

This is iconic of life, John thought to himself. This is an exquisite representation of Beauty and Life, but for this reason it hurts … it hurts like hell. There is life in this world, but life is like wax in the fire: it melts away and is gone. John turned back to his beloved. Or maybe that’s not quite true. Even wax, when melted, still exists; it simply exists in another form, melted instead of solid.

He paused for a moment as another tear may its way down his already tear-stained cheek. Maybe life is like that. Maybe we do go one, but just in another form or manner… At any rate, one day I’ll rest with you, whatever that means. I wonder, will we know? Will we be conscious? Will we finally be able to live Life? On the other hand, ‘It’s not death that man should fear; rather he should fear never having lived, John remembered reading somewhere. Ah, but how do we really begin truly to live? Am I living now, or is this simply existence?

“As a well-spent day brings happy sleep,” so said Leonardo de Vinci, “so a life well lived brings a happy death.” Yet to John nothing seemed happy about Sophia’s death. And as he remembered her in her last hours, she was not happy. What could have made her happy anyway? John turned back to the painting … back to the blood on the rose.

With all assurance now gone and the future empty ahead,
We sing another dirge while for Hades we make our bed;
Though true it is we fight long to belong to life ever-living,
Yet death stalks us and keeps us from ourselves deceiving

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Blood on the Rose, Part A

Sophia was sitting in the warm and cozy breakfast nook sipping on her Earl Gray from a delicate china cup, with a half-eaten bagel in front of her, while she looked out the tall windows at the astonishingly beautiful flower garden, focusing first on the day lilies, then upon the s-shaped row of monkey grass, cream-colored magnolias, azaleas, and so many other growths of glory stretching toward the brilliantly shining sun. Colors bright and vivid flowed in and out, entwined like one marvelous tapestry.

Sophia placed her cup back down on the fine, hand-crafted saucer, and picked up her sketch pad from the solid oak table to resume her work on an artistic rendition of the roses, marigolds, chrysanthemums, and all the impressively beautiful variety of flowers outside. Her pencil sketch of the garden she and her husband, John, had planted and took such great pains to care for, was more than half completed, and this simple knowledge brought a smile to her angelic, but worn and tired face, as it forcefully occurred to her that her drawing would long outlast her and the flowers as well.

Cancer is such a terrible disease, she thought, cutting me down in the prime of life … but, then, life ends in death, does it not, which is why we strain to create beauty and sacrificially fight to preserve it.[1]

Why even this? After all…

Our life is short and dreary; there is no remedy when our end comes; no one is known to have come back from Hades. We came into being by chance and afterwards shall be as though we had never been. The breath in our nostrils is a puff of smoke, reason a spark from the beating of our hearts; extinguish this and the body turns to ashes, and the spirit melts away like the yielding air. In time, our name will be forgotten; nobody will remember what we have done; our life will pass away … dissolving like the mist.[2]

Meanwhile, out in the garden, John reached out to pluck a rose for his soulmate and immediately felt the pin-prick, like a tiny sword opening layers of skin, followed by a swift flow of blood and throbbing pain, yet he thought it somehow quite appropriate. Love often brings pain, and pain often gives rise to beauty.

His particular suffering this morning brought in its train an image not only attractive by way of its own natural, living glory, but attractive to something “higher,” something enduring and almost overwhelmingly mysterious – perhaps Beauty itself. And so John could not help but think what an elegant and powerfully simple painting it would make: the stem, petals, thorns … and blood on the rose.[3]


[1] Elaine Scarry, On Beauty and Being Just, 5 – 6; cf. also Aristotle, “Poetics,” On Man in the Universe, 423

[2] Book of Wisdom 2.1 – 4a, NJB

[3] Scarry, Op Cit, 3; also, “the material world constrains us, often with great beneficence, to see each person and thing in its time and place, its historical context. But mental life doesn’t constrain us. It is porous, open to the air and light, swings forward while swinging back, scatters its stripes in all directions, and delights to find itself beached beside something invented only that morning or instead standing beside an altar from three millennia ago.” Scarry, 48