Nothing Lasts (written 2016)
I think there's a rock song that has a line “You can't go home again”. I can almost hear the tune when I think the words, but that's all that comes to me, no artist or song title. Apologies to the composer. This line has been running through my head at intervals since a recent trip to my hometown. It was planned as a pilgrimage, a nostalgia trip of a sort, so that it caused this synapses to fire is no surprise, I guess. The whole experience was both lovely and melancholy. That mix that makes a deeply moving poem or ballad turn in the heart like a knife, producing what humans understand as “sweet pain”. The kind of perverse impulse that can make me play over and over again a song that reminds me of loss or disappointment, or that finds me flipping through old photos with tears running down my cheeks, companions to a kind of joy in the heart. What is this about?
It's the heart telling us, I think, what the mind tries to deny. The impermanence of all we hold dear. A favorite Dhamma-folk-singer/song writer of mine, Eve Decker, sings “I ask myself what really matters in this world where nothing lasts.” Ah yes. That's the piece we'd rather deny, though the human heart knows the truth. We deny it because we think this somehow undermines the value of what we have, what we do in our lives. Yet, the heart knows this is what gives value to so much. We see the beauty in the sunset, knowing the day is ending; hold our children to our hearts, knowing they'll grow and leave; give our best effort to our work, knowing that the house we build, the book we write, the meal we prepare, the crop we grow, the broken arm we set, the lost person we seek to support, all of it is only a blip in the vast web of being and the great sweep of time. Our efforts, our commitments, are made in the face of this.
When we forget what the heart knows, it seems that we fall into mistakes. We imagine that the product and the process itself is significant in a way that makes us unreasonable. We are angry with delays, greedy for recognition, demanding of others, abrupt or dismissive perhaps of the needs of others. We develop tunnel vision around our needs and desires. That's one kind of mistake. The other is allowing the perception of impermanence to lead to apathy. Why build houses that will crumble? Why write books that will be forgotten? Why care for bodies that will only sicken and age? Why strive to help if our efforts don't seem enough?
On this trip, I visited the graves of my beloved parents, reminded of times that won't return, and of the brevity of the little lives given to us. This recognition makes the time spent now with loved ones still living, all the more precious. Visiting the home where I grew up, I found my father's gardens buried in gravel, the house my parents lovingly maintained, neglected, paint peeling, roof sagging, windows grimey. Some glorious trees remained, circling instead of a green sweep of lawn, a muddy stretch of torn earth where well-used gravel trucks were parked. When I returned to my current home I thought about the angst that goes into every decision we make in caring for what is “ours”. The grieving that takes place when we leave a place we've lived in and cared for, placing it in the hands of others. Our wishes that what we've done will be preserved. And how this is simply not possible. We care for what is ours...people, places, and the rest because loving means paying attention, but we recognize that this is only for now. We are stewards only of all that threads its way through our lives, our hands, our hearts. Loving and letting go is a recognition of both value and impermanence, twin truths that are uneasy companions.