On Melons and Gratitude

Design by Karela Palazio

I am reading an essay in the Grace Hopper dining hall, perched in a slant of stained-glass sunlight, about to take a little bite of watermelon. The piece I am reading is for class, a short and gory essay about the Christian-American embalming process. Bodies, freshly hollow, are stuffed and sewn with cotton, dotted with runs of painted pores, molded with wax and drained of blood and filled again with chemical fluid, bullied into looking alive. The embalmers are, the author quips, victors over death. My iPad pales as the glass panes swell with light, blots of sebaceous oil unearthing in the glow. I steel my gut and reach for my plate. I cannot name what I’m feeling, but it isn’t good. 

But then the slice of watermelon passes my lips, and my world is awash with sweetness.

We are taught that the value of life lies in its paramount ending. We are then taught that this ending is a horrible thing. So naturally, humans try to cheat it. We slather BB creams and placenta masks over our faces, soothed by tales of mythological fountains where the lucky stay young for good. Others are haunted by our legacies: if we can’t escape a physical death, we fight to live on in memorialized rebellion. Even once we die, we return in ruins to the earth, cakey foundation plastered over chemical burns, victims of an embalming process that trades our last grains of organic life for five minutes of zombified stardom.

I have to be shocked a little sometimes, jolted back awake by bursts of living. Like the snap-crackle-pop feel of clicking my knuckles. Like the knock of my swollen tote bag against the back of my chair, jostled to sentience by my fidgeting. Like this crisp and pulpy bite of watermelon.

Little gratitudes, man. I love them dearly. 

Now, I am crossing Old Campus to get to LC, palms open to receive the cool, feathery breeze. It’s hardly early, almost nine, but in the freshness of the morning I feel like the only one awake. The nicer days came fast this year: before I could blink, healthy stalks of dandelion and daffodil and hyacinth bled between the campus beds, pushing stubbornly, headily from the soil. They look breathless and flushed in bloom, almost unbelieving that it is them—yes, them!—that get to blossom, to burst effervescently into the sunlight. I understand: springtime is a beautiful thing. The earth, again, is new.

In this spirit of renewal, I forgo the stone pathways and walk on the grass. It grows in patches, choked with dry dirt and stubby twigs, but even the haggard tufts seem a little greener. I cannot feel the strands on my skin but I make-believe they are there, pushing through the well-worn soles of my sneakers. Emboldened, I toe off my shoes and pattered socks and take the plunge. I walk with my naked arches buried in the soil, bending flora and fauna under my peachy heels. The cool grass cups my feet with each step, coiling around the skin, grounding me in the invigorating act of being alive.

I was made, I think, for sunny days, for warmth and wind and soil. I was made to be alive, and so I am. I was made to feel awake, and so I do. I am, in these grateful little moments, a victor over life.

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