Here’s hoping this is not a sign of the day to come: I managed to scramble my egg without cooking it this morning. I wasn’t paying attention. An ear to the radio, an eye to the tree yoga-bending outside my window, and a mind a million miles away. Splat! I make a three second evaluation on the value of trying to scrape it up. No way. I have a slightly over-ripe banana that will go on my toast instead. Another lesson in impermanence – I think to myself – it’s not just eggs that are fragile, it’s pretty much everything.
Watching footage of the wildfires in Northern California, still raging after a week, has got me thinking. Pictures of street after street of houses, burnt almost to dust, shock me. I feel the tragedy for a middle-aged man panning the rubble and ash searching for a wedding ring. An understandable attempt to tether himself to a past that was always gone, but that we cling onto through an accumulation of old ‘stuff’. Apart from the clothes, he could have been a ‘49er’ from the California Gold Rush 170 years ago, panning in the rubble. The big difference though, is that they had the future ahead of them, and right now the man with a house of ash probably can’t imagine a future, yet. Tell him it’s all a lesson in impermanence and he’d be right to punch you. I would.
The easier lessons in impermanence are those that aren’t quite so life-changing or threatening. I knew my computer needed to be backed up, and yet it took me so long to do it (562 days). I took it to my local computer-whizz. He confirmed I needed a new hard drive. Inexplicably, (ok, idiotically) I decided to delete some old files before we did the back up. I was supervised. However, it seems that the impermanence lesson can break through supervision. As I emptied the trash I watched nearly every icon disappear from the screen. I called G. (computer-whizz) over. “Weird. Looks like it’s deleting everything.” I laughed, as we do in the face of the impossible. G. wasn’t laughing. He managed to retrieve some data for me: no files, no names – just computer rubble. I’ll do my own planning and sifting over time and see what gold nuggets I find. I’m upset. I think of the man panning for a wedding ring. I’m not upset anymore.
As the wind whips through Scotland today, takes down trees, leaves homes with maintenance they could really have done without, we are all getting lessons in impermanence. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were a simple lesson, like buying some beautiful flowers and watching them slowly wilt in the vase over a number of weeks? Seems we’re less apt to pay attention to the small changes though. That we need a bit of a shake to be reminded that things don’t stay the same. So whether you are letting go of most of your computer hard drive, a favourite jumper that the moths have shredded, an old dog whose day has come, an unfixable relationship, I hope it’s not too hard. I hope you can let go.
Last week I got an email from my friend in Ireland telling me her pride and sadness on her boy going off to university in England. Reminded me of a poem about impermanence and letting go. I’ll give you just the first and last verse. You can check out the two in between.
‘Walking Away’, Cecil Day Lewis
“It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –
A sunny day with leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away
I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show –
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.”