Interviewed by John Haggerty

Read Christina Holbrook’s nonfiction piece, The Gardener

John: Is impermanence an integral part of beauty? If you had known that it would look exactly the same in ten years, how do you think that would have affected your perception of it?

Christina: I think it has something to do with impermanence—but it may be our own impermanence. Beauty is all around us, isn’t it? Mixed in with the cruelty and destruction of this world. 

We can spend the one life we have allowing ourselves to be mired in sorrow for what is lost, or despair at what may never be. Or, we can resist. We can be in this moment awake to the beauty that is also, always, a part of this world—the songs of birds returning in spring, the colors of the fall leaves on a hillside. The curve of my husband’s ear is especially delightful to me, when I curl up beside him in bed. 

So, I guess where I am going with this is that beauty is all around us, and our determination to perceive and be astonished by it, despite all the tragedy in this world and the knowledge that our lives are so brief is an act of courage and resistance. 

The garden reminded me of Tibetan sand paintings—intricate mandalas that take weeks of work and are swept away immediately upon completion. Are the monks just reminding us that all of our works are doomed to destruction, or is there something more there?

I think the gardener is reminding us that even though our works may be doomed to destruction, to devote oneself to creating something of beauty is a worthy and courageous act for any human being.

Is art and beauty dependent on an observer to make it real? If you knew you would never have another piece published, would you still write?

Of course! Writing is a way of making sense of my life. But having a work published allows me to communicate and share with others, too. And I would feel the loss if that never happened again.

Do you know what’s happened to the garden since the events depicted here? Does it matter?

The garden is gone. But I imagine that the gardener, wherever he may be now, is still creating beauty.