How I love, and hate, that double-edged sword that is the certitude of change. When life is all swamp and drudgery there is comfort and more than a dash of sustenance to be found in the truthful wisdom that, ‘this too will pass’. But when the sun is high in the sky and you’re basking in its warmth, both literally and figuratively, the truism still stands; we just tend to forget about it and revel in the moment, perhaps even believing that the good times will never end.
In four weeks from now, it will be the longest day, and, where I am in Scotland, those days really are long: 17.5 hours of daylight in Edinburgh, not counting the ember glow in the sky well after sunset and well before sunrise. Each year at this time I am lulled into thinking the long, light-filled days stretch infinitely before me, but, of course, they are finite. The light will contract and diminish and fall; it will come to pass. Oh, come on – you might be saying – don’t be such a killjoy by anticipating the demise of summer when it has hardly just begun! I really don’t mean to. My point is, that keeping in mind each day is transient – rolling and changing – not only brings solace during the testing times, but also serves to heighten our enjoyment and sharpen our appreciation of the good times. For happiness is not all pomp, party and popping corks. Frolics, festivals and fripperies are fun but watching a hedgehog emerge from the shrubs and trundle across your back lawn in the still of the evening can bring just as much delight as the most grandiose fireworks display.
‘Ob la di, ob-la-da, life goes on, da, la la how the life goes on,’ sang The Beatles in a merry upbeat ditty with a profound message that I take to be: life bobs up and down like a hobbyhorse, just jump on the saddle and enjoy the slow turn with the inevitable highs and lows. A good life is a bit like the dips and rises on the hobbyhorse. Maybe even in equal measure. And the ups are never completely ‘good’, just as the downs are never completely ‘bad’ – there are shades of each in the other. I suppose that might be what people mean when they utter the now worn out phrase, ‘it is what it is.’ It might be some people’s way of saying we must approach tribulation with the same attitude as we do triumph. Personally I think that saying ‘Ob la di, ob-la-da,’ makes as much, if not more, sense than making a pronoun sandwich with the verb ‘to be’, conjugated in the third person. (E., do you hear me?)
However, getting back to the point, it is hard to keep one’s humour steady in the face of changing circumstances. Take this spell of good weather, for instance; the forecasters tell us it’s firmly planted over us for the time being. Usually our climate is known for its mutability: its fickle and inconsistent nature, its tendency to dramatically alter and change within the course of one day, its inclination to build your hopes up, then dash them with a swiftly moving weather front of wind and rain. Would that our moods, for the next little while, could achieve a similar measure of steadiness and balance as we approach both fair and foul in the fixed knowledge that, this too will pass.
‘Mutability‘, by Percy Bysshe Shelley
‘We rest.—A dream has power to poison sleep;
We rise.—One wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:
It is the same!—For, be it joy or sorrow,
The path of its departure still is free:
Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutability.’