Friday, December 17, 2010

This Too Shall Pass

When I was a student at Kenyon College, a group of Tibetan monks came to campus one spring to speak, sit in on classes, but mostly to create a beautiful mandala of sand in our library.  It was an interesting and surreal experience.  The monks challenged my assumptions, for one thing.  After they performed a ceremony in the conservatory of the library one afternoon, a friend and I passed a monk in full garb in an animated conversation on a cell phone, seeming for all the world like an Asian businessman, except for his robe.  (This was back in the early new millennium, and believe it or not, next to no students on my campus carried a cell phone).

The monks were on campus for about a week, and it took nearly that entire time for them to create the gorgeous sand mandala in the conservatory.  I passed by it as a work in progress nearly every day, and I was delighted to see the pattern coming together.  As the daughter of an art-gallery owner, I was horrified to learn that something that beautiful was going to be destroyed almost as soon as it was completed.  If I had my druthers, I would have attacked the pattern with some quick-drying adhesive so that the beauty would last forever.  When I expressed this opinion to some friends in the dining hall, I was told I was missing the point.  (Which of course I was).  But I had been the child who would not burn decorative candles for fear of ruining them.  I owned pages and pages of wonderful stickers that I refused to use because that would use them up.  I kept greeting cards and birthday balloons long past their expiration date. I dried my corsages from prom and homecoming in high school.  Permanence was an important concept for me.

The monks finished their mandala and let it sit on display for less than a day.  Then, there was a ceremony, which I do not recall even a little bit, because I was watching with bated breath for when they swept up the sand into a receptacle, as if it were nothing more than some dust.  The monks and the ceremony spectators trekked down to the Kokosing River with the mandala sand and poured it out into the water, with more ritual that I do not remember.  I recall walking back up the hill to campus.  I remember that because I felt very sad.  Something beautiful, something that took a great deal of work to make, was gone.  Just like that. My friends and I talked about how that was the whole point.  The point sucked, I thought.

A decade later, and I found myself thinking about those monks while I was reflecting on the fact that as soon as I get used to something with LO, he goes and changes on me.  I know I'm in no way original in this observation, but babies live in the perpetual present.  There is no counting on today looking like yesterday looking like tomorrow with a baby.  Everything is new to a child, and everything is in constant flux as he grows and develops.  I cannot pour adhesive over him to keep him at a particular stage.

Nor would I want to.  I think that I've matured some since my inability to pay attention to the Tibetan ceremony, although I still grieve over the loss of something beautiful.  But I've started realizing that impermanence is a gift.

This is one of the reasons why I'm somewhat skeeved by the Twilight books.  They posit that absolute happiness is to get what you want and have it stay the same forever.  Yikes!  If my happiness when I was 17 still looked like my happiness at 31, I think I'd have some major problems.  And if happiness stuck around forever, wouldn't it get terribly tedious?  My wedding day was one of the happiest days of my life, and it ended far too quickly.  But that's what makes the memory of it so shiny and perfect.

It is still very hard for me sometimes to remember that everything ends eventually.  I don't want to think about the end of good things--like how easily J and I can make LO giggle, like how LO's warm weight feels in my arms when he is sleepy and sweet, like the wonder LO feels for the world right now, like what it feels like to be so glad look at my son that I get tears in my eyes.  But good things end, and thank goodness they do, because otherwise there would be no room for other good things to begin.

While I was loading laundry into the washer this morning after a particularly disgusting diaper blowout, I found myself thinking that I'd like to ask the manager to stop the ride for a few hours.  I'd like to get off and take a nap outside of time.  Just a little time to refresh, I'd say to the fictional ride manager.  That's all I need.  But of course, there is no stopping the ride.  LO will continue to change imperceptibly and irrevocably, just as I will.  Eventually, this time will be swept into the river and will be gone except for my memory of it.  Apparently, then I'll miss the days of diaper blowouts and recognize the beauty in the life of sleeplessness.  But I'll get something in return: a series of exchanges of one beauty for another.  The trick to a contented life is to recognize the beauty of today before it is swept into the river.

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