One can have many regrets in life, but they are temporary. There are lessons to learn from every mistake. —Jeev Milkha Singh
When I looked out the window a moment ago, the sky in the East was a dark, brilliant pink. Now, it is just gray. Rain is coming and while it might be problematic for those with outdoor plans it’s nature is to pass over us and be gone. My youngest son is here but only for a month. As much as I would like him to stay, his visit is temporary. He must return home in time for school.
At the center of most every major belief system is the concept that everything that exists, has existed, or will exist on this planet and throughout the universe is temporary. Things are planted, grow, and then wither. People are born, live their lives, and then die. Stars in the sky burst into being, burn bright, then implode upon themselves. Everything is temporary.
Not that everything reaches its demise within the same time frame. The 1971 James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever works on the premise that diamonds are valuable because of their strength and permanence. However, while the erosion of a diamond may not be something observable within the span of a human lifetime, even they do eventually dissolve like Jill St. John’s career.
Being Temporary Is Good
Permanence is overrated. Some people want to live forever, but if life is not temporary then neither is the pain and suffering that accompanies it. Some people want great buildings of architectural importance preserved in perpetuity. Yet, with the crumbling or demolition of the old comes the opportunity to create new, perhaps better and more functional buildings.
When we regard something as permanent, we immediately devalue that object or idea because we assume that it will always be there. Many times, when I was younger, I stood by the grave of a deceased parent as their adult children mourned that they did not spend more time with them. “I thought they would always be there,” is the cry of many who were neglectful because they did not appreciate the temporary nature of life. We think towns and cities last forever, but they don’t. Mountains and oceans are temporary, even as they’re always changing and adapting.
The temporal nature of the universe is important because it allows us to appreciate what is here now. While we might miss certain items and aspects and people from the past, knowing that our life here is temporary provides us with some motivation. We focus our attention on those things we might lose. As we realize that everything is temporary, we appreciate more of what is around us. Even our lives earn greater respect as we consider our temporary nature.
While we inherently know that life is temporary, we don’t always realize just how short it might be. Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) posted the account of a tragic shooting that occurred yesterday. A large extended family had gathered to celebrate the life of a deceased loved one. As family members were standing outside a home, an apparently unrelated person walked up and started shooting. There was no apparent provocation. At this point, there’s no evidence that the shooter knew anyone in the family. He shot three people. One died on the scene. One died a couple of hours later at the hospital. A three-year-old remains in critical but stable condition from being shot in the hand. Life is just that temporary.
At the same time, though, Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel was 87 when he died this week. While he outlived most his peers, he understood the temporary nature of life. His mother, his father, and his younger sister all died at Auschwitz. The temporal reality of their lives and others he knew motivated him to write his award-winning biography Night. That book brought the horrors of the holocaust to life and emphasized the value of all life.
Without death constantly lurking, would we appreciate the lives we have? Almost inevitably, we would take greater risks, indulge in things that are harmful, and worry less about the danger our actions might bring to others. If we had no fear of death, would we have any compassion for others at all? That life is temporary keeps us focused. Knowing our days are numbered pushes us to do things now rather than later. Our actions are kept in check and we have greater compassion for others because life is temporal.
Government Comes To An End
Earlier this morning, I was reading an article by David Van Reybrouck on “Why Elections Are Bad For Democracy.” He makes the argument that the concept of one person/one vote is flawed because not every voter is intelligent or necessarily thoughtful in the way we vote. Such a deficiency leads to harmful results, such as the Brexit, because it is falsely assumed that Britain leaving the European Union was the will of the people. He argues for something called Sortition, selecting legislators by well-managed lottery. The advantage would presumably be that those who are inherently unqualified would not be elected.
Others are willing to consider even changing our very form of government. In a Gallup survey done last year, 47% of Americans said they would consider voting for a socialist. Stil,l others would happily vote for a totalitarian who would provide hard-line consistency in government over a prolonged period.
As we celebrate our independence from British rule this weekend, now is a good time to consider that democracy as we know it is temporary. As our current system becomes increasingly dysfunctional, dramatic changes to that system become inevitable. What we celebrate now may not exist 20 years in the future.
Awareness And Contemplation
If all that exists is temporary, then how are we to respond? Do we live in fear of our inevitable demise or do we seize each day and look to make it count? Do we consider how our actions might make existence even more temporary for other lives, other economies, or other cultures? Do we contemplate anything at all?
As we become more aware of our temporal nature, we realize we must do the most with what we have. There is no time worth wasting. If we are to create, we must create now. If we are to show compassion, we must show compassion now. If we are to revel in the love of another, we must love that person now.
My late mother endured many turbulent periods during her life and not all of them were handled well. She was fond of saying, though, that, “this, too, shall pass.” She understood that nothing, even the bad days and bad circumstances were going to last forever. She embraced that which is temporary. Perhaps we should do more of the same.
Let us dance in the rain. Let us love unconditionally. Let us live the fullest of lives now.