The Buddhists tell us that everything is temporary, and it’s a testament to my perspective that this idea terrified me when I first heard it, but comforts me now.
During my junior year in college, I took a class about the evolution of American Buddhism, and the idea of impermanence came up every Tuesday and Thursday, from 2:15 to 3:45. At the time, I didn’t like it one bit. My life was grand—Spring in college town? Please, how could it not be?—and I hated to think that everything I knew, and loved, would come to an end.
I took comfort in thinking that the Buddhists were probably talking about impermanence on a larger scale. Like, all human life will end someday—the Earth will explode or there’ll be another ice age (not bloody likely in Utah in July)—but my life will have ended long before that, so I didn’t need to worry about breaking up with my boyfriend (a hippie whose handle was Dingo) or not going to that evening’s drum circle.
Now, though, I take comfort in knowing that everything—even experiences exclusive to me—is impermanent. The pain I’m feeling over the loss of a friend? That will pass. Stress at work? That will pass. Passive-aggressive bullshit from people just trying to get under my skin? That will pass.
And the good stuff, too—the high I get after a hard workout, the feeling of wearing a new dress, the joy I feel when I make Brad laugh—will also come to an end. The challenge for me lies in recapturing those feelings. Yes, this particular workout is over, but I’ll have a chance to exercise again tomorrow, so I don’t need to be sad when this high fades.
I read this quote a few weeks ago:
"There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning."*
A month ago, it would have meant nothing to me. But a few weeks ago, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, Brad and I went to our neighborhood pool, and I swam a mile (off the couch), just to see if I could.
It didn’t start out that way, though. It started with a quick 500-meter swim.
“I just swam a 500,” I told Brad, who was reading on a towel in the grass.
“Go swim more,” he replied without looking up.
“But a 500 is pretty far! I haven’t swum for a year!” I wanted props, awed disbelief. I wanted to impress.
“I heard you. Good for you. But you can do more.” He remained unmoved by my athletic prowess.
Instead of getting annoyed, I thought, “I probably can do more. Maybe I should try another 500.”
So I did. And then I swam another, and after a few more laps, I’d swum a mile.
After the first 500, I thought I was finished, but it turns out, I wasn’t even halfway done. And later that night, when the high from the effort faded, I wasn’t sad; I was content and looking forward to the next day.
Maybe the impermanence didn’t scare me that night because I had gone beyond my own expectations. Maybe those self-imposed barriers—often more impenetrable than steel—are as temporary as pain, as grief, as joy, as love.