Beautiful things

Today, we welcome a guest post by Rick Perillo. He is passionate about the outdoors and incorporating ecological principles into daily life. He teaches edible gardening in Los Angeles, California. Rick writes, “Oliver came into the world too early and only had fifteen minutes. Now, I feel closest to him when I walk in the mountains or sit by a stream, so that's what I do as much as I can.

After my son died, a fire tore through the thirsty mountains bordering Los Angeles. Then, beautiful things started happening. 

Rain followed at the heels of the fire. Rains we hadn’t seen in a decade. The charcoal earth drank it up until it was full then spit it out in streams and waterfalls where before was only rock.

Everywhere, things grew. Glass bottle vacant lots became lakes of lupines. Wild mustard plants appeared in the mountains. Every day they became a thicker and deeper yellow until that was all there was.

One billion butterflies from Mexico fluttered through Southern California on their way north. They left caterpillars on every thistle and daisy. They were called Painted Ladies and tiny spirits rode on their wings. 

After my son died, I rescued a dog. She taught me to live in the moment. She coaxed me outside and reminded me that a pinecone is a greater work of art than a good book, that a stick is more fun than a gadget. 

My wife, dog and I walked through the burnt hills. We approached burnt oaks and watched green sprouts, somehow, push out of the blackened branches. We sat down next to a stream and read each other poems about the changing of the seasons. We became like the ashes all around us, impossible to make out which piece came from which person. 

My son took his last small breath on my wife’s chest fifteen minutes after being born. A match was thrown into everything that had been growing inside of me. He died on the first day of fall. 

I was going to put my son on my back and walk through the mountains. We were going to look at the butterflies and name the trees. When I lost him, I lost this dream. Taking care of him would be my meaning. Instead, he is taking care of me. I don’t have a son to hold, so I hold onto this.

When my son died, beautiful things started happening. But not everyone would see it that way. The rains brought tides of mud and rock down the mountains. One night, a rock the size of a piano was tossed onto a car. The yellow mustard is an invasive weed and when summer’s heat dries it out, it will take one cigarette flicked from a car window to burn the mountains back down. Driving up the Interstate, the butterflies splattered against my windshield. I had to use my wiper blades just to see through their smashed bodies. 

When my son was born, I learned a love I had never known. When he died, I learned a grief I had never known. He came much too early and didn’t have a fighting chance. 

It’s spring now and there are beautiful things all around me: the chrysalises hanging from the weeds, the people who still ask how we’re doing, and my wife who dearly loves our baby and never shies from saying his name.

There is something, somehow, growing inside of me. My son is dead, I am choosing to live.

What is beautiful, newly or still, after your loss(es)? How do you see and feel beauty now?