The moment’s impermanence

Seventy degrees on our deck– the flowers linger, and the leaves begin to add festive color.
It won’t last, but while it’s here, it’s beautiful. October 2019

“What solidity of sentiment it takes not to let an awareness of the moment’s impermanence dilute its richness, its sweetness, but purify it and saturate it with the utmost ‘fullness of being’.”Maria Popova

There’s a brief interval each year when many of the flowers, though fading, are still in bloom, and the weather is deliciously cool, turning the foliage into dazzling colors. Each year I long for these days to last. I want the temperatures to stay comfortably above freezing, and the flowers to find a second wind after the heat of summer dissipates. But golden moments never last long enough.

Popova is right: the knowledge of impermanence can distract us with premature grief at the inevitable passing of what we cherish. I can remember noticing this about Christmas when I was very young. My favorite day was always Christmas Eve, not Christmas itself. On Christmas Day the high point passed all too quickly, giving way to what seemed to a child an unbearably long time before it would come again.

When Jeff and I were mired in the numb anger, shock and devastation of a diagnosis that gave him only two years to live, I begged him to hold onto hope that he would beat the odds and be in the 5% who survived for at least five years. Though I really believed he would make that milestone, I knew he was a realist who would have difficulty buying into hope as I did. So I argued another approach, one that turned out to be more valid than the idea that he would survive the cancer. “Even if you only have two years to live,” I told him through tears, “these can be the best two years of our lives.” I wanted to believe that, too, but mostly I was just trying to be brave. I was determined to make the best of whatever time was left to us.

They weren’t our best years, of course, but they were full of sweetness nonetheless. During the nearly four years he did survive, his tremendous suffering through surgeries and chemotherapy were set firmly aside during times he wasn’t actually at the hospital. We took lovely, brief vacations and made happy memories that are among my most cherished. We welcomed two grandsons. And though I didn’t think it possible to be more bound up in each other than we already were, the intimacy of such an ordeal fused us ever more tightly together, even as it separated us from others to whom we once felt close.

In the realm of earthly joys, everything is impermanent. I know this, and I don’t want to let grief over all the painful losses of the past seven years blind me to the blessings that I still have, and still take for granted. Popova refers to “solidity of sentiment” as the remedy, and it’s an interesting concept, because sentiment is too often ephemeral and fragile. The very word “sentimental” often hints of disdain for shallow and fleeting emotions, but it need not be so.

Awareness of impermanence may sting, but in the long run it can nurture more joy in simple, daily graces, and deepen our appreciation for the goodness of life. May we all grow up enough to find contentment in what lies within our reach, right now, today.

 

22 Comments

  1. Amen, Julia!
    “May we all grow up enough to find contentment in what lies within our reach, right now, today.”
    This post is beautiful. I agree.
    Autumn represents so much of what you described, and each autumn I cling to the beauty and often take a lot of photos. I’m sure Jeff didn’t feel his photogenic best during much of that time, but I suspect that you took a lot of photos even of peripheral vistas and events to hold as treasure, triggering memories.

    • Thank you, Susan. One of my autumn memories of the very difficult months immediately following Daddy’s death, is of you and I walking around our Kingstowne neighborhood taking pictures together. I blogged about it here and have thought of it many times!

  2. Susan

    Julia, I can’t even imagine what a painful time that was for you, Jeff getting the diagnosis — we met right around that time, and you were, and continue to be, always so gracious and kind despite all the emotions — shock, pain, and sorrow.

    I hope you’re taking time to go out on that lovely deck now while the colors are peaking, and that it may provide some continuing healing and peace, as you bring to us through your words and your example. Love to you!

    • Susan, thank you so much for your kind words, and for being here. Meeting you was one of the rare bright spots of the otherwise devastating fall of 2012. Just more proof that there are always reasons to be grateful. I am so happy that you have stayed in touch and I fondly hope that we WILL get together soon. I took a photo of the nurse’s statue for you on a recent trip to Arlington. I had not realized it, but it’s really just a few yards away from Jeff’s grave. It is best viewed from the bottom of the hill, on the road leading to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I had only ever really looked at it from that viewpoint, so I didn’t realize how close it was because it is off to the right side of “our” section, partially hidden by the trees.

      • Susan

        You are so thoughtful! My time will free up after tomorrow so hopefully we can get together soon.

        • I hope so Susan! Meanwhile, happy fall, y’all! 🙂 ❤

  3. Chris

    Julia,
    What a wonderful post! I would say that Popova is right, to some degree; I would hope, however, that most of us would ignore the distractions and simply revel in the moments. You said it best in your last sentence, that finding contentment today, seeing our blessings, here and now, is important. One of my Army friends used to say that the only constant we have is change itself. Meant as sarcasm, it must be a truth. So, embracing the notion that impermanence is a constant in our earthly lives should help us focus more on the moment, the here and now. Still, sometimes it’s just difficult. I’ve watched you, and a few close friends here in FL, go through the ordeal of losing a spouse. It’s truly heartbreaking, and I’m truly sorry for your loss. And as difficult as it might be, I’m thankful for your resilience.
    My wife just loss her baby sister this week – pancreatic cancer. It was a tough battle for almost two years. While the sting is still here at the moment, Jeanne will focus on the good times and celebrate Pat’s life. May we all learn to appreciate more the goodness of life.
    Have a wonderful week!

    • Chris, thank you for this encouraging comment. I have always thought that, for a woman, losing a sister is almost as hard as losing a spouse. I am so thankful that I have not had to bear that particular grief. I used to tell Jeff all the time that “I would not want to live in a world without my sister in it” because she has been with me from the very day I was born and there’s nobody quite like a sister. I hope that Jeanne and all who mourn your wife’s sister will be comforted.

  4. A profound and moving tribute. One of my most favourite quotes is by George Eliot in her book Adam Bede: “What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life–to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?”

    We will feel the sting of loss. Your words are a poignant reminder that we must make memories in the here and now because those are the moments that will provide comfort and guidance as move on in our journey foreword.

    • What a beautiful quote! I have not read Adam Bede, which is pretty surprising considering how much I love Middlemarch. I must put that book on my ever-growing “to be read” list. I love quotes (can you tell? 😀 ) and I really appreciate your sharing this one with us. Thanks for being here!

  5. Linda Blackford

    Life is a gift, made more precious by its brevity and unpredictability. If life and health would last forever, I don’t think we’d appreciate what a blessing they are. I believe you are right that it takes a certain maturity to understand that and accept it. I’m hoping I’ll get there when I’m grown up. (By the way, I’m 72!)

    • Linda, I love this comment and believe it or not, I had always pictured you as someone about half the age you are. Perhaps something in one of your earlier comments should have given me more of a clue, but it’s funny how we form mental pictures of people by their words alone (whether on the telephone or in writing) and often, find out that they look quite different from what we imagined. I have had this happen several times with local radio personalities. When I see a photo of them I am usually surprised that they look nothing like the person I had imagined in my head, without even realizing I was doing so, just from the sound of their voice. I guess in your case this means that you have a youthful outlook on life that comes through in your comments. Hurrah for staying young at heart! You are a great role model for me (63 this month). Thanks for being here.

  6. Harry Sims

    Many years ago I resolved to stop being resentful towards being preached to.
    Today I receive many affirmations with deep gratitude.

    “There’s a bit of good in the worst of us,
    There is a bit of bad and the best of us,
    So it hardly behooves any of us
    To sit in judgment over the rest of us.”

    Harry

    • Harry, I have always liked that quote. It’s hard NOT to resent being preached to, but perhaps those of us who have sat through countless hours of sermons in church have had at least a little practice at it. 🙂

  7. Harry Sims

    Good or bad.

    “This too shall pass”.

    Harry

    • Many years ago when Jeff and I were going through some sort of crisis (probably one of Matt’s many heart surgeries) his wise aunt, who is a psychotherapist and a close friend of mine, sent us a note to let us know we were in her thoughts and prayers. She closed with the words, “This too shall pass– both a blessing and a curse, which will become apparent to you in a few years.” I have always remembered that, because it really did serve as a wake-up call that both good and bad things are happening all the time, and though we may not be aware, there are things we will miss as well as things we will be glad to let go.

  8. Carolyn

    Your flowers are pretty. Mine was until last night. We are a very heavy frost and it was 28 when we got up. I guess, I am ready for winter. Wish fall had been around longer. Hope you and Matt are well. Take care, sending love and hugs.

    • Carolyn, just yesterday I pulled all my plants off the deck and now my kitchen and family room look like a wannabe greenhouse. I have to find spots for all of them. We have a neighborhood greenhouse where I’ll put some of them, but others I’ll probably set in a sunny window and hope for the best. We too went from summer to COLD very quickly. My friend visiting me right now from England was amazed that one day she was so warm she wished she had brought shorts, and the very next day, we had freezing temperatures. We are doing OK and hope you are too. Sending our love and hugs to you too!

  9. What a beautiful photo! 😊

    • Thank you! 🙂

Thanks for encouraging others by sharing your thoughts:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: