Finding Beauty in Impermanence


Reposed and resplendent in its patchy coat of rust, this decaying barge embraces an unplanned afterlife, with gravitas.

Adorned with wooden stairs and railings, it is now a spring board for mildly adventurous humans, a perch for resting birds, and a habitat for life in the shallows — a future its engineers never anticipated.

Likely moored here for safe harbour, this scenic sanctuary has become the barge’s cemetery; as if the verdant Queen across The Narrows proclaimed that there be no other final resting place, for such handsome remains.

This haunting scene reminded me of a quote from Pico Iyer, which I stumbled upon thanks to the always illuminating Maria Popova at The Marginalian. She summarizes Iyer’s perspective that it is because everything is impermanent — love, life, seasons, objects — that we cherish and find them beautiful. The entire piece is worth a read; however, this quote returns to me when I see the photo:

What do we have to hold on to? Only the certainty that nothing will go according to design; our hopes are newly built wooden houses, sturdy until someone drops a cigarette or match.

— Pico Iyer (via The Marginalian)

Superficially, this is a photo of a disintegrating barge on a beach; but if you look just beyond the obvious, the waves begin to lap at the shore activating your visual ear.

You hear the echoes of age-old wisdom reverberating through the remains, appealing to you:

No matter how we plan and despite our expectations, never mistake a future you imagine, for the future that will come.

— Disintegrating Barge

It is the kind of wisdom you realize you already have, the moment you hear it for the first time. In simpler terms — as the guitaring philosopher John Mayer puts it:

No matter how you work it, things go wrong…

— John Mayer

Weather and time can turn an idyllic safe harbour, into a barge cemetery; and plans can go awry. We are never in total control, and we’re always just the passenger. 

So, what do we do when our expectations are dashed?

First, we find the beauty — in our memory of what was, in the remnants that persist, and in the idea of what could have been. Second, we rebuild — from scratch, when necessary. The struggle, heartache, fear and pain that join the initial disappointment, are reminders that we are alive. They remind us of our folly; they guide us in navigating forgiveness, repair or recompense; and they teach us resilience in a universe where impermanence is law, and where everything is ephemeral.

Make no mistake — life is messy, but it is not ugly. There is always beauty in the mess and clarity in the chaos, if you’re patient and willing to find it.