“Who is good if he knows not who he is. And who knows what he is, if he forgets that things which have been made are perishable, and that it is not possible for one human being to be with another always?” ~ Epictetus
I, at one point in my life, lived as if I were imperishable. It was only when I was beaten up, thrown off a bridge, and left for dead that I was reminded that graveyards are filled with people who fancied themselves as — imperishable.
It was only through tasting death that I learned all things — including me — will pass away. And yet even to this very day I have trouble accepting this fact.
Yes, I know life is fleeting. I know nothing lasts forever. What I can’t get over, though, what preys upon my mind, what tears at my heart, is the thought of losing my friends and loved ones.
I say: If there is to be an end of the road let it be mine, not theirs.
“When some men die it is as if you had lost your pen-knife, and were subject to perpetual inconvenience until you could get another. Other men’s going is like the vanishing of a great mountain from the landscape, and the outlook of life is changed forever.” ~ Phillips Brook
Some friendships illuminate what’s really inside us. They are the mountains that loom large in our interior landscape.
Our Forever Friends.
So how does one get reconciled to the fact that:
- even the most beautiful,
- even the most true,
- even most singularly gratifying relationships,
Are on loan to us for only a short while?
As Tolstoy observed; “Future love does not exist; love is a present activity only. The man who does not manifest love in the present has not love.”
My grandson is a lover of life. He lives entirely in the here and now — from moment to moment. One day, out of nowhere, Sam asked me, “Grandpa, are you to going to live forever?”
A perfectly logical question for a 5-year-old who knows life only as “happily ever after.”
Sam does not know, nor can he grasp, that for most of his life Grandpa will be nothing more than a loving memory.
I could not answer him. All I could do was squeeze his hand a little tighter.
The great Stoic philosopher Epictetus two millennia ago suggested:
- Better we find ways to embrace the passing away-ness of life than invent make believe worlds that exist only in our imagination.
- Better we are left with the irrevocable gladness that it had entered our lives at all and animated them for the time that it did.
He offers this meditation on loosening the grip of a loss.
“When you are delighted with anything, be delighted as with a thing which is not one of those which cannot be taken away, but as something of such a kind, as an earthen pot is, or a glass cup, that, when it has been broken, you may remember what it was and may not be troubled…
What you love is nothing of your own: it has been given to you for the present, not that it should not be taken from you, nor has it been given to you for all time, but as a fig is given to you or a bunch of grapes at the appointed season of the year.
But if you wish for these things in winter, you are a fool. So if you wish for your son or friend when it is not allowed to you, you must know that you are wishing for a fig in winter.”
Yet, I do wish for — figs in winter.
How difficult it will be to never share again the news of the day with my buddies.
How difficult it will be for Sam to never again be able to leap upon Grandpa’s lap for comfort and protection.
How do we learn to stop yearning for figs in the winter without letting the pain of parting embitter us?
These lesson I’ve not yet learned. My heart and mind race away from what my soul struggles to understand.
Yet I do know — eventually, inevitably — eternity will have its way with me.
“Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me – The Carriage held but just Ourselves – And Immortality ~ Emily Dickinson
Just a thought…
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