Home
Up
Wanting
To the editor of The Sun
Snoozing in my Chair
Remembering That First Kiss
Lost to the Clouds
"I'm Old," he said
My Visit with the Director of Lawrence Radiation Lab
Plodding Down the Path
Read To Me
Mammogram
Tax Time
Prosopagnosia
On Being Fully Alive
Rats
John
If I Should Die Before I Wake
Theme Song Nostalgia
Fight or Flight or
Minor Island
Landings II and III
The Sun on Me in the Morning
Missing Pieces
Living Simply
Voices
I Had a Brother, Once
The Wild One
Insurance
The Cost of Health Care
Popular Music
Sleeping Beauty
Full Moon
Are We Connected
Concert for George
Zoe Moon
An Opportunity to Feel
Over the River and Through the Woods
Saving Daylight
Garage Sale
Pushing On
My Little Town
Grasping
Memory
The West Wing
Everything is Impermanent
Muscles
Dawn
Gaslight
Emotional Habits
My Shadow
The Power of Eyes
Being a Vegetarian
She Blushed
The Mouse in the Basement
Passion
Mind and Matter
Do You Love God
Writer's Lament
Releasing Dreams
Relating to Cats and
Free as a bird
Silk Scarf
Alice at 21
Alice Evelyn King Skiff
Cookies & Milk
Animals in Mountains

Everything is Impermanent
(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 hard.)

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

Comment on this essay? Send me an e-mail, please.
(And mention the title of the essay, too)