Impermanence

I was thinking about a teacher today who was here for a while before he left for another school. Once a fixture around here, he is a mere shadow of a memory to the senior class who would be the only ones left to remember him. Next year, he will be forgotten by most students. That’s pretty much how it is at a school. You can be everyone’s best friend, but when you’re gone…you’re gone.

It’s like building a sand castle on the beach. You can build the most amazing sand castle on the shore line, but inevitably the waves will crash down on it, smoothing out the sand and eroding what used to be there. There may be small divets for a while, but eventually the water will smooth it all out, removing all traces of the castle. That’s life.

That’s impermanence.

Your life is not permanent. Everything is in flux. Everybody on some level fears this. They flock to religion because of their fear of mortality, but I wonder if they think about impermanence. I don’t doubt they do on a subconscious level, but do they really, truly contemplate impermanence?

I believe they don’t. I believe if they did, they would be more proactive about addressing something that can’t be changed, and as a result not fear their mortality with as much vigor.

How can you address something that can’t be changed?

I feel like most people, in true typical fashion, somehow think they should be remembered…just because. It’s the classic “legend in their own mind” syndrome. In reality, you have to work for that kind of accomplishment.

You make choices.

Your career choice is instrumental since that’s what you spend a large chunk of your life doing. Do you have a job that touches others’ lives, or do you do the kind of work that nobody will remember in the future?

How are you raising your family? Your kids will survive you, and their kids, and their kids, and so on. What will you pass on of value that will continue to get passed on generation after generation?

What differences do you make in your community? Do you help make positive change? Will this change affect people’s lives? Will these differences in society leave a long-lasting impression in the world?

Will you leave something memorable behind? A legacy, productive family members, novels, an organization you created, an idea that keeps spreading, students whose lives you touched–it can be so many different things.

We can’t all be Martin Luther King Jr., FDR, Shakespeare, or George Washington, but we can make a difference in some way, big or small. We just have to choose to seek out the opportunities to make our life productive and fruitful. That is our only defense against the inevitable reality of impermanence.

Today I came across this from Doreen Hamilton (1938-2011), Associate Minister of the Toronto Buddhist Church. I thought it was timely.

Our short life.

Our short life can’t matter much.

What matters is what we leave when we die.

Will I leave love?

Will I leave beauty?

Will I leave peace?

Will I leave others strong than before I came?

I’ll do my best!

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