The older I get, the more I find the need to hold on loosely to whatever I have. If I hold onto things too tightly, I have more difficulty letting them go when it is time, or when they are ripped from me. When I was younger, I thought things would last forever. I thought the same about relationships. What was once thought to be a secure job, was gone. A marriage that was assumed to last forever, didn’t. Financial security when it is most needed is not there. Or the Notre Dame Cathedral, which stood for more than eight hundred years, seriously damaged and almost destroyed this week, the holiest of weeks. Some of these we assume will last forever, only to find otherwise.
Now that I am a lot older and somewhat wiser, I see the impermanence of life as a necessary gift. “Gift,” you might be thinking? How could the loss of a marriage, a job, and/or financial security be a gift? And certainly not the loss of a large part of the historic Notre Dame Cathedral, that could certainly not be a gift! While I am not sure about the “gift” of losing a large part of the Notre Dame Cathedral, I can attest to many of what is thought to be life’s tragedies turning out otherwise.
Don’t think too much about my examples; think instead about yours. Looking forward when bad things happened in your life, you likely could initially only see the loss. After time passed, you may have recognized the gift (s) found in those experiences. In some cases, a bad marriage that you were holding on to may have opened up your life for a true love. (This example is hard for me, since I think marriage should be forever, but too often it isn’t.) That job and career that you worked in for years and that suddenly disappeared may have required you to truly evaluate your life and do something totally different than you had been doing. And amazingly, you found more happiness in your work than you ever thought possible. As for financial security slipping away when you needed it most, the only answer I have for that is as long as we have our health, we can recover from even that. No, it isn’t easy, but it is certainly possible. And there are, of course, many more examples.
If we live long enough, we find ourselves in different circumstances. One of the spouses in a couple will pass away, leaving the other needing to make a new and different life. As we retire, we find a need to develop hobbies and even new relationships, especially if much of our lives were consumed by work. As we get older, we may miss being physically able to do many of the things we once did. The impermanence of life often requires us to adjust to very different circumstances. If we are holding on too tightly to what we had, we are unable to open up our arms and our hearts for what is new.
So, in this week of death and resurrection, let’s not lose sight of some of the important lessons. What are we doing and what are we holding on to that we need to let go of? What is waiting to be resurrected in us, that might be the salvation that we have been searching for? There is, of course, a religious and spiritual message in this, in this holiest of weeks. There is also, however, a practical message.
On Monday when the Notre Dame Cathedral was burning, our daughter Tara, who was with her family at Notre Dame in September 2018, posted this on Instagram. “I’m ashamed to say that I spent most of my time there trying to avoid losing (six-year-old) Virginia in the crowd and actually thought to myself that certainly, I’d have an opportunity to come back someday.” Well, hopefully, you will be able to Tara, but Notre Dame will not be the same. Moments lost (although I would certainly prefer you losing moments than Virginia!) are gone forever.
What moments are we losing by being on Facebook instead of being present with our loved ones who are right in front of us? What moments are we failing to capture as we live them, worrying too much about the past or the future? Are we aware of the impermanence of life, or living it so fast that we miss its magic?
May we all hold fast to the lessons and promises of this week.