(but some things keep coming back)
One of the most basic truths in Buddhism is that "all is
impermanent." Whatever it is, good or bad, it will pass away sooner or
later. The idea is that we shouldnít get attached to things we like, and the
other side of it is that the things we donít like wonít be around forever.
Itís a simple bit of wisdom, but one we often forget. Or resist.
Iím up again this morning at 5 A.M., awakening from a dream about some
people I worked with forty years ago. Our sales manager was going out of town,
and asked another employee to mow his lawn while he was gone. The other man said
he couldnít, for some reason, so I volunteered. The problem was, Iíd
forgotten to ask him his address. I started to look him up in the telephone
book, but realized I couldnít remember his last name. Well, I thought, Iíll
call the company and ask them. Somehow, that didnít work, either, and I woke
up with the feeling that I was losing my memory. To prove it, I began thinking
of all the people I knew in those days, and name after name came up blank. Even
a couple of women Iíd had romantic adventures with were suddenly anonymous in
my mental data banks. It was not only my memory I was losing, it was large
chunks of my life.
I know that when one gets into that mind state that the best thing is to
quit trying. The effort to remember often just solidifies the block. For
example, now that Iíve been away from the situation long enough to dress,
start my computer and begin composing this journal entry, the name of at least
one of those women comes to me without effort (Thank God! What if she should
phone me, and say, "This is Sally. Donít you remember me? ME?"
Iím still left with a bit of sadness, though, aware that much of my life
is fading. I donít usually dwell on the past; my present life is more
fulfilling than any other period. Those days were good and bad, as "the old
days" always were. I was not half the person I am today. I wouldnít trade
for anything, and I wouldnít want to go back and relive any of it (well, maybe
there were a couple of moments, probably not with Sally, but . . .)
The thing that bothers me the most is the possibility that I might not be
able to remember, or calculate, or perform my usual tricks with my mind. Iím
not afraid of AlzheimerísóIíve heard that if you have that, you donít
know that you donít know. So if you worry about losing your mind, you donít
have that. Whatever. Still, I depend upon my mental abilities all the time. I
enjoy figuring out things, whether they have to do with model aerodynamics or
photography or philosophy. And sometimes forgetting things can be rather fun.
Several times watching movies on television, I have enjoyed a drama only to
discover toward the end that Iíd seen it before. I donít mind seeing a good
film more than once, because I always get something new from it. And thatís
also especially true with music. The thousandth time through Shostakovichís
Fifth is as satisfying as the second. (The first time I hear a complex piece is
often as awkward as the first conversation with an attractive womanóI try too
However, now that Iím here, in this familiar chair looking at my words
on this familiar monitor, watching my thoughts come together as they nearly
always do, the sadness is gone. Only the memory of it lingers a bit, and thatís
fading already. Thereís a lot that I donít want to rememberónot just the
bad times, but the routine things, the boring hours, and the exasperating people
Iíve had to deal with.
One purpose of the Buddhist admonition to remember that "all is
impermanent" is so that we pay more attention to the present moment. Most
of us are so preoccupied with regrets over the past and fears or desires for the
future that we arenít really alive to what is, this moment. And this
moment is the only reality.
If Iím not alive to what is present, then am I really alive at all? So I
woke up with an unpleasant feeling of having lost something. The feeling has
passed, and in this momentóI am hungry. I can smell an onion bagel heating in
the toaster, and fresh-brewed coffee. I guess Iím alive.
Donald Skiff, October 21, 2002
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