Coming to terms with impermanence is a task for every living person. Nothing lasts. Try as we might, not one of us can hold onto anything or anyone. The days turn into years, our children grow up and away from us, and anticipated events and seasons pass and fade into memories.
The good news is that we can choose our attitude to the certainty of change and loss. It makes us better or it makes us worse. We grow or we resist growth. Both states are uncomfortable.
To be human is to be in a state of flux, with our feelings and the circumstances that comprise our days. We feel melancholy, then grateful, and occasionally suffused with unexplained joy. Our emotions ebb and flow like the tides, often surprising us with their force and power.
I think the key is holding all of it loosely. So easy and healthy-sounding to write and so challenging to live out. I know that fighting the inevitable is useless. We can’t change the passing of time. All we can do is adapt to it by accepting that the process is bigger than we are. Each of us exists as a cog in a much larger wheel, stretching back into the past and extending far beyond us into the future.
And yet, impermanence itself leads us to gratitude for whatever is currently in front of us. When we stop running from the truth that our life on planet earth will not last forever, we can sweeten our experience of this particular day. It means more, because we only have a limited number of them to come.
This concept of time passing is more keenly profound in middle age. We are at the halfway point (if all goes according to plan), and we find ourselves astonished by how much of our life is already behind us. Then we look ahead, and we see old age in a way that seems much closer than it used to.
One of the hardest parts of living authentically is bravely facing up to these truths, instead of numbing them with food, alcohol, work, other people’s problems or the enormous time suck that is the internet. Being true to who we are involves recognizing that what we are building into will not last forever, but when we invest in those we love, we can pass those skills and securities to the next generation.
I’m attempting to focus on what brings the most meaning, to myself and to others, in the days and months ahead. How I define this will continue to shift and change, as I do, but it’s a helpful way to channel my energy into something positive and worthwhile. I hate to feel paralyzed by panic and fear at what I cannot control. I’m better off staring this anxiety straight in the face and stating, “I accept you, exactly as you are” and then going along my merry way with a lighter heart because I’ve addressed the darkness instead of ignoring it.
It’s a hallmark of dysfunction to feel isolated in our sadness, but when our sense of loss is part of our shared human experience, it helps a little to actually share it. To bare our souls with as much courage as we can muster, in the midst of our brokenness, and hear another say those healing words: “Me too.”
The load is lighter when others help us carry it. Nothing lasts forever, but as long as we are alive, we get to choose how to spend our time and who we share our lives with. And those choices determine the quality of our days, which matters a great deal.