When I was a kid and a friend said something hurtful or I felt bad because I’d struck out during a softball game or even when I had cramps, my mother would always say, “This, too, shall pass.”
Mom understands impermanence. The weather, the price of gas, the baseball season, our joys, our sorrows and especially our bodies – nothing stays the same. Everything is in a constant state of change.
Since being introduced to the writings of Jon Kabat-Zinn and subsequently discovering Pema Chodron and other Buddhist teachers, I’m learning to observe and live within the present moment. Meditation and other mind practices cultivate change in how I adopt and express compassion and loving kindness toward myself and other sentient beings, even (and perhaps especially) the person I used to be.
I’m working on a project that has me poring over my journals from the early 1980s to now. I’ve spent hours reading about feelings I had in response to specific incidents and feelings in general about my life in that moment. One day I’d be on top of the world and the next day not. I have to constantly remind myself that I’m reading about my life as a 20-something- or 30-something-year-old woman from the perspective of a nearly 45-year-old woman, and to cut my younger self some slack.
Those times passed. They were impermanent. And I built, year after year, upon those experiences, those working out of problems and feelings – perhaps not always in the healthiest of ways, but the only ways I knew how at the time – to become the woman I am today, who, I’m sure will frustrate the 65-year-old me when I read today’s journals in 20 years.
The lighter side of my journals are the entries about my kids, particularly the things I’d forgotten – small things like I couldn’t remember how old they were when they got their ears pierced and poignant things like the at the hospital a few days after I had Cassie. She’d developed jaundice and was being treated under bright lights for several hours a day. I couldn’t have her in my room as much as I wanted, but one night, after the nurse brought her to me for a short visit, the fire alarm went off and all the doors to the ward were shut. For 90 minutes I got to hold Cassie all alone in my room before the hubbub ended and they came to retrieve her and put her back under the lights.
There are entries about spelling tests and arguments, boyfriends and birthday parties, how unfair I was to not let Cassie shave her legs until she was in sixth grade, how awesome I was because I let Carlene go to homecoming in 10th grade…this, that and everything in between
One of the funniest entries I’ve read to date was written November 23, 1990, when Carlene was 7 and Cassie was almost 6.
“Yesterday was Thanksgiving. Carly was going to take a picture of me across the table from her. There was a candle between us and, very seriously, she looked at me and asked if the camera would blow the candle out!
“Cassie said that the turkey was talking to her inside her tummy. She said he said he didn’t like to get eaten.”
I called Carlene last night and read this to her. I was laughing so hard I was crying. She laughed, too, and couldn’t believe she was such an air-head. I reminded her she was 7.
Laughter shall pass just as sorrow shall pass, but some things from the past are worth bringing into the present moment, whether it is for a good laugh or a chance to learn from our mistakes. Without my journals, these experiences would be permanently erased from memory, and I doubt I’d have this chance to learn to accept with loving kindness the person I was 5, 10, 25 years ago. It’s probably the nicest gift I’ve ever given myself.