True and appropriate
“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?