The moment’s impermanence
“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.