True and appropriate

Dental student Jeff with a 1-month-old Drew, spring 1984.
Even the baby’s babies are now past this stage.

“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: ‘And this, too, shall pass away.’ How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! — how consoling in the depths of affliction! ‘And this, too, shall pass away.’ ” — Abraham Lincoln, 1859 speech in Wisconsin

The wise words Lincoln quoted here are most often spoken at times of frustration, grief or anger, but as he emphasized, they are equally fitting when applied to times of joy, success or prosperity. Not only do they serve as a caution against pride; they also are a reminder that what presently might seem to be hard times may someday, in hindsight, seem like “the good old days.”

When we first moved from the central coast of California to the sunny shores of Hawaii, I was miserable, and not just because I was physically ill during that move. I also was dreadfully homesick for the magical existence we had enjoyed in California, our wonderful church family there, and the closely-knit circle of friends who brought such happiness into our lives. Yet, only a few years later, I was to look back on that first year in Hawaii with a nostalgic longing for that time, too.  Our sons were still very young, innocent and full of joy at whatever we shared as a family, no matter how modest, and the rainbows and plumeria and beaches were richly unique decorations in our lives.

Over the years and decades that followed, I noticed that this is a pattern in my life, as well as other people’s lives. When we are in the midst of a situation, we often don’t realize how good we have it, or how happy we really are; we take it for granted. Of course, from where I sit now, I can look back on even the most stressful and difficult times and think “yes, but at least I had Jeff to lean on then.” Then I have to wonder: what or who do I have in my life now, right this very minute, that I may one day look back on with this same longing for something that is no longer available to me?

Life brings all kinds of reversals, many of them sudden: the unexpected accident or loss of health, a job or financial security; the death of a friend or loved one; career changes that bring geographic separation from those we love. Other changes are more gradual: aging and the many small losses that go with it; declining energy and ability in our parents or ourselves; babies, and then grandchildren, who grow up and away from us, a little at a time.

No matter what is happening in your life right now, I can just about guarantee that there are some aspects of it you will one day look back on and miss. That’s what I keep trying to remind myself right now. If I get too mired in sorrow over Jeff’s physical absence, which cuts so deeply on a continual basis, I will be missing other blessings, beautiful gifts that I will later regret losing. So I coach myself, even in the pervasively numb disinterest I can’t seem to shake, to focus on all that remains.

“And this, too, shall pass away.” It’s both a blessing and a curse, but if we are mindful of the two-edged nature of time’s relentless pace, we will appreciate all that we still have. Look around you today. What gifts are yours in the here and now?

40 Comments

  1. Sheila

    Good morning, Julia. When I count my blessings I count you twice! I must never take “Defeat Despair” for granted either, as it is a blessing to me, as well. I’m pondering about the gradual changes and sudden changes that I’ve experienced. I miss my Mom terribly, although it’s been five years now. She still puts a smile on my face, as I think that I’m becoming her (in so many ways). Our daughters and their families are close by, but they have grown up while we were growing older, and we didn’t realize either one. I never thought of OLD as a sudden happening, but that seems truer than ever. Just in the years that you and I have been friends, we’ve experienced so much together. We’ve shared losses of several loved ones, most recently Jeff, of course. I think of Mr. Carlyle, Dr. Vann, Larry, and we certainly miss Pasha and Salty. I will try to find comfort and joy in everyday things that I might have otherwise taken for ho-hum. Thank you, Julia, for being in my life! Love, Sheila

    • Sheila, thank YOU, for everything! Your comment reminded me of the old saying: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, I am my mother after all.” 🙂 Yes, we have been through quite a bit together, haven’t we? It’s almost like life speeds up as we grow older (although in the eyes of the young, the exact opposite appears to be happening) — so many of the “someday” things that seemed not quite real to us when we were in youth or middle age start to catch us off guard, one right after another. No wonder I feel so dizzy so much of the time!!

  2. Renee West

    My help comes from He who has given me, my very breath. One day at a time-Sweet Jesus!

    • Thank you Renee. Your strength and endurance are a continual inspiration for me.

  3. Chris J. Beam

    Julia, they are wise words, indeed. And I think you’ve hit the mark. I believe it is about “today”. We had the past; we will have the future; but today is the day – let us be glad and rejoice in it! The past we reminisce; the future we hope for; yet, today is our focus. Today is the present. And why do we call it the present? It is our “present” from God. 😊
    Have a truly blessed day!
    Chris

    • Thank you, Chris. Psalm 118:24 is one of those verses that my mother used to say so often that I would get tired of hearing it, but it’s so true, it does bear repeating. Right this very minute, I’m enjoying the warmth of the sun shining through my living room window. I can see the wind blowing through the cherry trees, but all I feel is the warmth. A “precious present” for sure! Hope your “now” is beautiful too!

  4. Julia, I cannot believe the timing of some of your posts and how you minister to me just when I need it! I was so greatly discouraged last night about past decisions I have made that I still regret, because I sometimes think if I had done what I wanted to do when I graduated high school, I wouldn’t be struggling so much now. BUT I also wouldn’t have George and the kids most likely, and God only knows where else I could be. Thanks for your continuing encouraging posts. I know “this too shall pass away.” 🙂

    • Patsy, I am so happy this helped you! It’s very easy to get caught up in “what ifs” and “if onlys” but for most all of us, we can count the blessings that would not be in our lives if we had taken different paths. What matters is starting from where we are and thinking of our regrets as experience to help us move in the right direction. Hope your week is “wonder-filled” as Marlene likes to say.

      • Thanks Julia. I am glad to hear this today. A couple of days ago I was really feeling down about where I am in life, but you’re right. I need to just start moving from where I am. I hope you have had a good week. Mine was pretty good. My son who is gone most of the time now is home for the weekend. My daughter will be gone for her Spring break in April, though, and my son and husband both working, so I am trying to think ahead about what all to do with my time!! 🙂

        • What a wonderful thing to think about…”What all to do with my time!” I just love it when I can actually choose some preferred things to do. I’m quite sure you will find lots to do, and if you are anything like me, you will plan to do way more than you can fit into the time. Somehow when I think I will have a stretch of time to get some things done, it always goes by faster than I thought it would and I end up not getting half the things done I had planned. But just being able to go slowly and relax is worth whatever else I might have accomplished. Have fun and enjoy an extra cup of tea or two (or coffee if that’s your choice) for me!

          • Julia, I guess I am trying to think about what to do with my time mostly to keep from getting depressed. With our daughter gone for 10 days, it is going to be even quieter and feel more like a real “empty nest” which I am not looking forward to. I also hear you about planning things to do and still not getting half of it done; I have done that in the past a lot. The thing I have always struggled with the most is just not knowing how to manage my time. Ever since I quit working and started our family, I have stayed home with the kids. When they were growing up, it was a little easier to have some sort of schedule to work around. Now it is just working around taking my daughter to her classes three times a week. We are here all morning, then in the late afternoon, so the day is broken up. But then on the two days I am home all day, I still feel like I don’t get the things done that I am thinking about a lot! Well, such is life. However, I will definitely have extra cups of tea and think of you! 🙂

            • Patsy, one reason it is so emotionally risky for anyone (male or female) to be a “stay at home parent” is that most of us need more structure than we are able to provide for ourselves on an ongoing, continual basis. I think that’s why so many people who work from home must rely on planners, lists etc. to remain productive. Of course, the effort is well worth it. I think most homes benefit from having one full-time “staffer” to coordinate everything else and keep things running smoothly. But the hard part is that the full-time homemaker will often unintentionally become the dumping ground for the fallout of everyone else’s over-committed time. Even though your situation is slightly different, you still might find that providing yourself with a structure of some sort will help you feel less overwhelmed with knowing what to do and when to do it. One thing I try to do when I am feeling as if I have not accomplished anything, is to focus on what I have actually done rather than what I didn’t get done. One day I was berating myself for several unfinished tasks when I stopped to count up how much time it had taken to prepare meals, do several loads of laundry and run some errands. Since these are everyday things we often don’t realize how much time they take, and don’t think of them as accomplishments, but they are. Maintenance is unexciting and often feels unrewarding, but someone has to do it, and we need to recognize the value of our own efforts in the small things, not just the big ones. BTW – re: empty nests — from where I sit, an “empty nest” has always seemed an unreachable luxury, and one thing I grieve so deeply now is that Jeff and I never had the pleasure of sharing some “empty nest” time together, with nothing pressing or urgent to do, and lots of time for quiet relaxation in the home setting we both so loved. Often what seems a burden or an unwanted situation to us, seems a gift to others. So try to enjoy that empty nest time for me if for no one else! 😀

              • Yes, you are right on all points, Julia. I have to say by nature I have always been a pessimist because I grew up in a family of pessimists!! We all saw the glass as half empty so to speak I guess. I hope I didn’t sound insensitive about the empty nest issue; I know you never got to have that with Jeff and I am so sorry about that. My husband and I are almost there as it is anyway, because our son is gone most of the week and stays in his room most of the time on the weekends when he is here but still spends time with us, too. And we live where my husband works so he is in and out all day long and usually home most evenings. So it won’t be too hard, but I’ll just miss talking with my daughter during the day like we do now. Anyway, thanks for the reminder about looking at all the things I DO get accomplished in a day! I needed to hear that. 🙂

                • Patsy, you’re welcome! I have a sneaky suspicion that most people really do accomplish far more than they realize.

  5. I never knew it was Lincoln that first brought this quote to life. Interesting way to look at it today too Julia. If we could always use it with a, ‘cup half full’ attitude, we’d be more apt to relish in the plentiful little happy moments knowing that they are fleeting. But you’re right, I’m more likely to hear it when people are offering comfort during a bad time. As with so many of your posts, I become more aware of being mindful of all the good things in my life, no matter how small.
    Looking around now, the snow we got last night is glistening in our mid morning sun and it looks like diamonds on roof tops. I just finished a yummy cup of Nespresso with frothy milk, a gift from my boss. I work for an awesome gal and love working for her. Petals is resting in her perch in the sun, her little furry foot stretches now and again signalling utter contentment, I’m happy when they’re happy. I’m on my way to the craft room, that alone is a luxury not known to all. The perfect day begins, here with you, in my safe and warm home, with the simple things of the day. Love you Julia xK

    • Kelly, I totally loved reading this warm and cozy scene and imagining every detail. I love how snow sparkles and I always used to love watching my kitties stretch their little “toes.” A cup, a cat and a craft room…perfection indeed! Thanks for sharing it. ❤

  6. Dear Julia, you have many on which to lean in your present life. Your words, “the pervasively numb disinterest” seem counter-intuitive to the excellent blog posts you continue to supply your faithful readers. And, need I remind you that many of us have physical maladies which will indeed pass; but only as our own earthly existence passes, and we see what Jeff has already seen?

    • Well, if it seems counter-intuitive, that means I’m getting very good at faking cheerfulness! Seriously, it seems increasingly true to me that a positive disposition is, in many respects, something that can be “forced” temporarily until the sun comes from behind the clouds. But I would be dishonest to pretend that it’s not a struggle, to varying degrees, most all the time. Not too long after Jeff died, one of my professors was talking to the class about how any research topic, no matter how interesting, has to pass the “so what?” test in order to be valuable. When he asked me about what I was working on, I had to preface what I said with the disclaimer that “there is nothing in my life right now that passes the ‘so what?’ test.” That was true then, and it is true a great deal of the time now, but I just have to recognize it as a typical stage of grief and distract myself with lots of things that often don’t seem to matter very much anymore. The good news is, losing the one person who was most important to me has given me a different perspective. The bad news is, losing the one person who was most important to me has given me a different perspective. And so it goes…

      • Thank you Julia. I am taking a break from an otherwise eventful day; and there appeared your thoughtful reply.

  7. Harry Sims

    Words of comfort and mysterious solace!!!!!

    “It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: ‘And this, too, shall pass away.’ How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! — how consoling in the depths of affliction! ‘And this, too, shall pass away.’ ” — Abraham Lincoln, 1859 speech in Wisconsin

    I know it’s true for after all doesn’t it say it in the Big Big Book, “And It Came to Pass”?

    I know it’s true because it is Repeatedly Proven.

    I’m Harry, devoted twelve stepper.

    • Harry, I have always found that phrase “and it came to pass” most intriguing. I guess it could be said of everything that has ever happened in all recorded time, and before. That makes it a pretty big concept, doesn’t it?

      • Wow! I just realized that all of the things that haven’t happened yet are still “coming” (to pass).
        That perspective gives me rather mixed feelings. Coming … to pass.
        But you have long known this and is perhaps why you entreat us to continue to find joy in the present moment.

        • Yes, that one phrase sort of combines past, present and future (in reverse order) and depending on the speed at which whatever it is will be coming, if we blink, we might miss it! 🙂

  8. Mike

    I had never thought of, this cogent verse in this regard -only from the cessation of pain and not the disappearance of joy. Recently I have grabbed onto the short saying of Julia of Norwich-” All will be well and all will be well.” Oh yes Julia. She was so far ahead of her time and talked of the feminine nature of Jesus. Quite a revolutionary. I am going with that one.
    All will be well.

    • Mike, she is on my list of people about whom I want to learn more. Her oft-quoted repetition of “All will be well” is a far more intriguing concept than Gertrude Stein’s famous “Rose is a rose” line, if only because it’s ultimately so much deeper. I do find that it’s a comfort to remind myself of the serenity of her words, even when I can’t quite believe them. It was much harder for ANYONE, let alone a woman, to say that with conviction during the time she lived. We have it so much easier today in so many ways.

  9. It’s so true, Julia and I think part of the human condition. We crave sameness and familiarity for the comfort they provide, yet what is life if not change? You write with such thoughtfulness and reflection.

    • Thank you, Alys. As much as I love to explore and discover, it took me years to realize how much I treasure the old, shabby and comfortable over the new and flashy. I was past middle age before I realized that most people change up their decor and linens long before they are worn out. Jeff used to buy me new walking shoes periodically because I would wear through mine and still never see the need to get new ones. It’s a mindset that goes far beyond frugality. Some of it has to do with being too distracted to notice the worn cuffs of a favorite jacket, or the dated look of a sturdy piece of furniture. And some of it has to do with being attached to what has served me well, and not eager to replace something just because the newness is gone. Jeff’s death, more than anything else, has helped me realize that “all things must pass” and that is certainly true of material possessions.

      • Lots of things to ponder here, Julia. I’m so happy we’ll be able to talk in real time soon.

        • Yes, it will be so good to see you again!

  10. Good morning, Julia! My mother often said “… and this, too, shall pass ….”
    I wonder why she skipped the “away” part. Hmm. I will have to ask. I’m going to visit Mom and Dad this weekend.
    I won’t let this opportunity pass!

    • Susan, I guess the “away” sort of goes without saying. Stunk and White would probably advise us to cut it for that reason. But I like Lincoln’s way with words. A little embellishment here and there adds a bit of flair, I think. Hope your visit with your folks is full of fun times that leave happy memories.

  11. Sheila

    Good morning, Julia and Matt. 💚 You should find a package on your doorstep today. It’s too big for your mailbox. Matt, I hope you enjoy the little map I drew on your card of the miles that little box traveled. Enjoy! Love y’all dearly!

    • Sheila, not an hour after I read this comment, the package was left on my doorstep and I stopped what I was doing and opened it all up. When I saw the cheese straws, I ignored my inner “it’s too close to dinner to open that now” and dove into it. I realized I had bought cheese straws as a gift for other people several times, but had never gotten any for myself! WOW, it would be hard to top the ones you got…I enjoyed the “bodacious” story on the box and after eating them, I believe every word! All the other gifts were lovely too, and I took some photos that will likely show up here before too long. Matt is dozing with his NASA cap on as I write this. He really liked the hats. Thank you so much for your kindness toward us, and for schlepping those gifts all the way up here and all the way back and then having to mail them. I had a (much smaller) little token I had planned to give you, but who knows when I will get around to mailing it? I just now finally mailed Mr. Weaver (the sweet bagpiper who played at the graveside) the tartan blanket that he left with Megan when he got worried that Owen was going to freeze in the snow! But I’ll get around to sending your little treat eventually…or as another famous Southern woman said, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.” Meanwhile, I’m sending you fond gratitude and loving thanks!!!

      • Sheila

        Julia, the visual of Matt is the sweetest “thank you” of all. 💚 Bill and his brother, Tom, visited NASA in Houston many years ago and the NASA hat was one Bill wanted to share. That package included some items that I’d been saving for you and hadn’t mailed. I shared the magazine “Our State” hoping you’d enjoy the photography article. I’m glad you enjoyed the cheese straws immediately. So Southern! ✅ She 😊

        • Sheila, I took a cute photo of Matt in that hat that I’ll try to get around to transferring to my computer and sending to you. (I wish I could figure out how to get my camera to connect directly with my computer! It’s supposed to, but I’ve never been able to make it happen.) I did notice right away the photography theme of the magazine, and of course I took a few minutes to instantly flip through both of them before setting them aside for a more relaxed time. Your package was a dose of Southern sunshine! And those incredible cheese straws were GONE within 24 hours, and nobody helped me eat them… 😀

  12. MaryAnn Clontz

    The HAPPY baby overjoyed with his daddy! The incredibly proud daddy adoring his gift from God!
    (I must add: the incredibly HANDSOME Jeff!)

    • Thank you, Mary Ann. Yes, Jeff was a very handsome man. When the funeral chaplain saw some of his photos he said “Wow, he had HOLLYWOOD good looks!” 🙂 But it was who he was that made him so unusual. Somehow he managed to stay humble despite his good looks, disciplined ability and keen intelligence. I think his relationship with God had everything to do with that. I always said that of all the Bible characters, he reminded me most of Moses, who was “a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). Yet Deuteronomy 34:10-12 tells us quite clearly that there was never anyone like Moses. So I suppose the analogy will remain fitting in my mind.

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