Thursday, July 14, 2011

Impermanence Mocks Us

Impermanence mocks us. Our efforts - to learn, to acquire, to hold on to what we have - all eventually come to naught. This is the final and controlling paradox: Only by embracing our mortality can we be happy in the time we have. The intensity of our connections to those we love is a function of our knowledge that everything and everyone is evanescent. Our ablity to experience any pleasure requires either a healthy denial or courageous acceptance of the weight of time and the prospect of ultimate defeat.

- Gordon Livingston, M.D.

* * *

Two great silences bracket out lives. We assume, because we are in between those silences and our lives are so very loud, that this spit of time that we stand on is the whole of human experience, or at least,  our experience. If we are religious we have accepted on faith a reunion of sorts (with our loved ones, our heavenly father, etc.) that awaits us on the western horizon, so that silence is really another form of this life. Believing it to be so allows believers to navigate the troubles of living because an end to tribulations is our reward.

My son asked me a few years ago if I believed in heaven. I told him I did not. I said that when we died we simply became part of it all, the cosmic all. Such is my sense of it, but the silence or reunion that waits is of little concern to me. What concerns me, what takes my attention and asks that I attend to it is the present. Our lives are evanescent; we expire; we are brief by any measure and yet we act with impunity, squandering our days in self-made prisons of anger, doubt, fear and delusion. Time is infinite. We are not.

But it is not enough to be awake to one's mortality. Something more must be added to that knowledge: the ability to be happy despite our impermanence.

* * *

On the island of Malta, in St. John's Co-Catherdral, inlaid on the floor, are the marble tombstones of 400 some Knights of St. John. Each tells something of the story of each knight. To the right is the one belonging to one Francois de Tressemanes Chastuel Brunet. The inscription reads: “He exhausted the incurability of a long lasting illness by his invincible endurance, so that it may seem that Death did not assail him, but that he challenged Death to a wrestling match.”

O, to be a Knight of St. John.

* * *

Our inevitable death is something feared, and because it is feared it distorts and diminishes the moment at hand. We spend so much of our time fearing the end of our time that we rarely break free of that fear and actually live unencumbered by the weight of such things. Isn't the task set before each of us to find the courage to love this life despite its brevity and unfairness? Aren't we here to do something more than fear our death and then die?

Yes, my fucked in the head friend. We are. We are to challenge Death to a wrestling match by living until we exhaust the incurability of dying. How is this done? With something entirely foreign to the fucked life: happiness rather than pleasure, courage rather than bravado, acceptance rather than despair.

Your death is nothing to be concerned about. It is your life that needs your attention and you must attended to it in the only time you have: right now. Since you don't know when the curtain falls on your act how can you postpone for a moment the pursuit of your happiness?

Wake the fuck up.

* * *

All this begs the question: What is happiness?

Here's my answer: the risk of loving another, of being loved, of loving despite all the evidence to the contrary that it is a fool's game.

* * *

Dr. Livingston quotes the late Raymond Carver as the author of the epitaph he'd like on his tombstone:

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on earth.

* * *

Now go and sin no more you fucked fucker.



  1. Still trying figure out the comment above, but who am I to stand in the way of such commentary?

  2. - interjection
    it is so; so be it (used after a prayer, creed, or other formal statement to express solemn ratification or agreement).