This Is How We Live Now, or the Illusion of Permanence

aurora-borealis-cecil-herringI went to bed at 8:00 last night with the girls. Around 2:30, I was lying awake in Pearl’s bed, writing in my head. I was thinking about the Illusion of Permanence, something that has long held my attention. I considered getting up to capture some thoughts in a net of words, but didn’t. This morning, rested for once, I was left only with impressions of a dream about being in high school again, but as an adult masquerading as a high school student. The details don’t warrant repeating, but the dream itself was probably prompted by the fact that I have been reading through some old journals over the past few days, filling in some of the blanks for myself as I move deeper into this murky creative process of writing / assembling a book.

At the moment, there may be more questions than answers. But what has struck me most is the tenacity of the illusion. How at any given moment in our lives, that is How We Live, Who We Are, What We Do. And how change happens, whether painstakingly, mysteriously, or magically – sometimes all of these together.

**

On April 18, 2005 – Aviva was two and a half, Pearl not yet conceived – I wrote these words:

I struggle to give a shit about work yet tow the line constantly between skirting the rules and being so ethical out of good-girl habit. Feel – or could feel – incompetent doing any job. I’m not the director anymore, thank god.

I am an addict.

If we teach what we have to learn, with so much struggle around work, money, purpose, satisfaction, direction, is it any wonder I became a life coach?

Two weeks later, this:

La llueve ha venido
llevando pajaros

The rain has come
carrying birds

It is easy to get so entrenched in the daily machinations of my life that I forget, forget it wasn’t always like this nor will it always be. I no longer feel incompetent, although the memory of it makes me an empathetic to that struggle. I am no longer an addict, though at the time, my relationship to smoking felt intractable.

The only thing that will always be is the breath, and even that will change, give way to something so vast and borderless. The only thing that is permanent is One for All and All for One. The only thing that will always be is being. Is change.

**

A few years ago, my dear friend Deb told me this story. It has helped me move through many difficult moments and savor many sweet ones:

One day Solomon decided to humble Benaiah ben Yehoyada, his most trusted minister. He said to him, “Benaiah, there is a certain ring that I want you to bring to me. I wish to wear it for Sukkot which gives you six months to find it.” “If it exists anywhere on earth, your majesty,” replied Benaiah, “I will find it and bring it to you, but what makes the ring so special?” “It has magic powers,” answered the king. “If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy.” Solomon knew that no such ring existed in the world, but he wished to give his minister a little taste of humility. Spring passed and then summer, and still Benaiah had no idea where he could find the ring.

On the night before Sukkot, he decided to take a walk in one of the poorest quarters of Jerusalem. He passed by a merchant who had begun to set out the day’s wares on a shabby carpet. “Have you by any chance heard of a magic ring that makes the happy wearer forget his joy and the broken-hearted wearer forget his sorrows?” asked Benaiah. He watched the grandfather take a plain gold ring from his carpet and engrave something on it. When Benaiah read the words on the ring, his face broke out in a wide smile.

That night the entire city welcomed in the holiday of Sukkot with great festivity. “Well, my friend,” said Solomon, “have you found what I sent you after?” All the ministers laughed and Solomon himself smiled. To everyone’s surprise, Benaiah held up a small gold ring and declared, “Here it is, your majesty!” As soon as Solomon read the inscription, the smile vanished from his face. The jeweler had written three Hebrew letters on the gold band: gimel, zayin, yud, which began the words Gam zeh ya’avor – This too shall pass.

At that moment Solomon realized that all his wisdom and fabulous wealth and tremendous power were but fleeting things, for one day he would be nothing but dust.

**

It wasn’t always like this. Aviva, seven years old, looking so grown-up this morning as she slung her backpack over her shoulder. Pearl screaming about the “clumps” in her socks and the “clumps” in her blanket as I helped her make her bed this morning. Aviva asking Greg when can they have a “dada date,” Pearl throwing her arms around my neck in her sleep.

It wasn’t always like this. I didn’t always have 500 pages of raw manuscript to contend with, or a community of friends and readers around the country. My skin used to be smoother, my belly firmer. This too shall pass, this body.

It wasn’t always like this, the November rains, the birds in flocks coming in dreams with dark messages. The mountain valleys dusted in morning frost, the anguish and the ecstasy, this too shall pass.

It wasn’t always like this, the back-to-back meetings you could only have dreamed of a few years ago, or the blank day staring down at you like a sentence. This too shall pass.

**

On September 19, 2004 – Aviva was nearly two and I was in the throes of a major professional/marital/spiritual crisis – I took refuge in writing:

I want to dance
with my daughter
her sweet arms waving high
to dance with my mother
after all is said and done
I want to dance
with my sisters
with our matching diamond rings
I want to dance
with my father
who has done nothing
but grow and love
I want to dance
with my lover
his hands on my small back
I want to dance
with my girlfriends
who keep sustaining me
I want to dance
with Icelandic sheep
their horns like new shofars
I want to dance
with my dead aunt
and her city-country dreams
I want to dance
with the tree frogs
and wild horses on the beach
I want to dance
and dance and dance
because dancing makes me free

That crisis passed – as have others since – but I kept rushing in to fill the ensuing emptiness. I see something now that I was just then beginning to glean: that in that hollow space, the void, before language and form, there is a wholeness. When I quit smoking in 2005, I wrote about this, started my first blog, knew that living this double life, hiding, “skirting,” was limiting my growth in every way – creatively, spiritually, professionally. These are, after all, all the same thing, right?

But to sit with the emptiness, to rest there, to dance into that place without names for things, without the illusion or burden or security of permanence, that has been my calling.

**

On October 1, 2004, I wrote:

Beautiful woods.
Deep sleep.
Here is a stillness
I’d like to keep.
Red leaves lit
by fading sun.
Needle carpet.
Running brook.
I understand
why you long
to walk all day
belonging
to your thoughts
and the exquisite
rightness
of what we haven’t touched.
It’s good
to be alone in here
just for a moment
after such a storm.
I can imagine
how so many feel
that in the woods
they are reborn.

Greg used to say how after a few days on the Long Trail with Juke, a few days of getting up, eating breakfast, walking, stopping, making dinner, sleeping, and getting up again, the two of them easily forgot all about the workaday family life back in town. “This Is How We Live Now,” Greg would say, as he described their time in the woods.

**

How quickly we adapt, settle into new routines, integrate new circumstances, adjust and respond accordingly, and pronounce our current reality as How We Live Now. And then it changes. In most of our daily lives, things change sometimes slowly, while we’re busy making other plans, so to speak. We don’t see it happening. Here we are, all caught up in the moment, immersed in the Illusion of Permanence, while the whole while some deeper tide of time passing is carrying us, powerfully and inexorably forward. Of course, sometimes things change in an instant, requiring a different kind of catch up.

Either way, this too shall pass. This moment of Life As We Know It. This particular arrangement of the furniture, this version of reality. And tell me, what will remain? Your love, atomic particles, fertilizing the barren ground. The bulbs we can’t see, the blazing sun in some other part of the world, the world that too shall pass into something unknowable. Tell me, love, what will remain? The dance after the dance, the imprint of our bodies, the last exhale of our fleeting names.

Image credit: Aurora Borealis by Cecil Herring

5 thoughts on “This Is How We Live Now, or the Illusion of Permanence

  1. rowena says:

    Miss Bullseye,

    I’d just like to point out to you the last sentence in my own post today, that went up mere moments after your own.

    “Winter reminds me that this too does indeed pass.”

    So let’s just say you have hit the mark with me, yet again.

    Like

  2. Pingback: November Goodies

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