Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dealing with Impermanence...

I walked into yoga this morning, the cool fall air following me through the screen door. I try to get to the studio, to relax and elongate, every Thursday, as much as possible. But I am unwilling to commit. I have been burned before, buying a multiple-class card that must be used within a certain time frame and losing money when one or another crucial thing has kept me from coming.

"Single class?" asked the girl behind the desk, familiar with my fickle ways.

I sighed. "Yes, I just never know for sure..."

The teacher, a calm and rational presence always, piped up. "Aaah, that fits our theme this month, Impermanence, so maybe it's ok..."

"Maybe," I said. "I just have to reconcile myself to dealing with things day by day?!"

She nodded, understanding.

It is funny, because I have of late buoyed myself in difficult moments, boosted myself up out of funks with the idea of impermanence. This is new, a sign, I hope, of much-needed maturation.

I have never navigated through life and its near-constant change of people, place and events easily. In my early years, not travelling much or enduring much in the way of change, I would literally lose my footing when I found myself elsewhere than home. I fell out of beds, down stairs and even just tripped on my own two feet 'cause I was so flummoxed and out of sorts.

Later, when college presented changes of rooms and roommates more often than my mind could accommodate, I began packaging up my little sack o' safety, a straw bag that held my white metal makeup basket, my flowery jewelry box and a little happy yellow strip of fabric that I could lay these things upon wherever I might light. It helped me a little, but I still did not flow easily and fluidly through the many ripples real life presented. I ached over friends and family who might get busy or be gone, those people I had left back at home or those who had left me. I had little experience, thank goodness, with death, but the tales of others' losses were enough to scare me into a deep funk.

It is maybe as a parent or simply to save my own self that I have begun to grapple with change and loss and deal with it more honestly, put it in a place, recognize my lack of control over it.

I picked up a book at Barnes and Noble a few weeks back in search for answers to some angst I was experiencing, ignoring the silly self-help cover because the name appealed to me. It was The Age of Miracles, by Marianne Williamson. I bought it because its first few pages resonated deeply with me, mentioning as it did much of what I have been trying to figure myself during the past two years, a period many have termed my Mid-Life Crisis. I prefer to think of it as a time of necessary growth and acceptance and have not developed an easy label to describe it, but suffice to say it has been a very reflective time and I value having had the luxury to take it.

Anyway, sulking over the loss of a close friend, I came upon a passage where Ms. Williamson describes a relationship with a younger person in which there was what she calls a "built-in time limit." Such a limit, she says, "seems terrifying at first, until I realized, but isn't that what death is?"

Of course, I thought. Every end is a kind of death, our inability to deal with it a denial of that death. She went on talk about the deep learning this relationship brought and warned that "the only thing that can ruin such an experience is when someone doesn't know how to let what happened in Paris be simply that."

That's it, I thought. I have never been good at letting go of Paris. But I am learning. To do so, I am hosting a lovely French student, here in New York from outside of Paris itself, for an 8-month stint as he helps Human Rights Watch watch the atrocities in the Middle East and North Africa. It is a period where, I hope, we can gain much from one another and walk away without despair but with great joy at the experience. I hope to understand more from him about how to deal with the eventual independence of my own young boys, who are every day bigger and bolder and more assertive in their own reasons for being. I have to be able to help them as they too struggle with the idea of impermanence.

"I am happy," Eli tells me yesterday as he reads a book for his homework, in the late afternoon, after a long, trying day, the first day of third grade.

I am so thrilled to hear that he is happy on what can be a day of difficulty.

"Excellent," I said. "Why are you happy?"

"Because," he said, looking up from his little paperback, "if an asteroid hits the earth, it will probably only kill a million or so people..."

Um...huh? I am lost but I pretend I am with him.

"So, you are worried about asteroids and the fact that it won't kill us all, but just a million of us, makes you feel happy?" I said.

He looked pleased, understood, as he nodded. "Yes," he said.

"Well, honey, I know you're worried about asteroids and such," I said, walking over to stroke his thick dark hair, remembering vividly his his sheer panic as we watched Cosmic Collisions at the Planetarium, "but it is pretty much out of our control, so I wouldn't spend a lot of time worrying about it. Just enjoy..."

"I know," he said, back already to his reading, to making the best of things in his own way.

Does he know? Do I? I hardly think so. But all we can do is try.


  1. The universe is in perfect order. How could it be otherwise?

  2. Nice post, Stephanie. Stronger writing, maybe because you're delving deeper, and also connecting the mundane - the inability to keep a yoga practice - with the profound: the fears of our children, the fragility of all human relationships, the weird, profound joy/sadness mix that underlies every step of our lives.

    I resonate strongly with your words and experience. Several years ago, I remember feeling 'on top of the world' - i'd rocked graduate school, landed a wall street job, had a lovely wife and darling son. Five days later, a catastrophic accident triggered the loss of all of that, and the gradual opening of my clenched fists to accept.... yes, the impermanence of my life. Now, I am more appreciative of the gifts for which I have struggled, like my son waking me up every morning. And I'm learning to cling not too tightly to that, or to him.

    It's always good to see you and G. and your tribe in the mornings on the way to school.

  3. Thanks so much, Scott, for your feedback! I'm really glad it resonated. It is amazing how much we have to keep in perspective on a daily basis, isn't it?