Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Transcendence Of Impermanence

I heard a submission in NPR's "This I Believe" series this morning, from Iranian-born writer Dalia Sofer. It neatly summarizes much of what I, too, believe is at the heart of our lives.

Too often we Christians cling to something and make it the permanent focus of our lives, believing, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that throughout the many changes through which we live and move, that it is always there, a Rock of Ages to which we can cling for comfort. Even faith itself becomes such an idol, that thing which just "is" for us. Ms. Sofer's essay reminds us, I think, that real meaning, real value, real love are precious precisely because they are all transitory. Our most precious possessions are left behind. Those we love, and who love us, will pass away, some day to be no more than a fading image on a piece of paper, even their names forgotten by those whose very existence is rooted in our own.

Even our land, our culture, our language - it, too, will fade away, lost in the mists of time. It is a challenge, when facing these the only real ultimate realities, to hold on to anything. Yet, hold on we do, we must, because such is all we are granted in our three-score-plus-ten year walk across this planet.

From Ms. Sofer:
[D]espite the only certitude I have — the knowledge that I will die — I find pleasure and love, if not meaning. Often, this happens when an experience evokes an unbroken joy — a ray of light beaming into a warm room on a winter morning, the uninterrupted presence of someone I love next to me, and things, less concrete — a memory, a song, a word.

In his Myth of Sisyphus Albert Camus likens our absurd existence to the fate of the Greek mythological figure, whose task was to push a rock up a mountain, watch it roll down, only to begin again, fully aware of the futility of his condition. Camus concludes that "the struggle itself toward summits is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

Like Sisyphus, I get up every morning, grab a cup of coffee, and sit at my desk. I stare at the lines from the poem "Tobacco Shop" by Fernando Pessoa, pasted on my wall. Pessoa writes:
But the Tobacco Shop owner has come to the door and stands there.
I look at him, straining my half-turned neck,
Straining my half-blind soul.
He'll die and so will I.
He'll leave his signboard, I'll leave poems.
A little later the street will die where his signboard hung,
And so will the language my poems were written in.

I begin writing and I think, "Yes, dear Fernando, but so what? My lines exist for now, not even, mind you, in my original language, which has not yet vanished, but no doubt will in my bloodline." And if I were not overly concerned with the hazards of smoking, I would light up a cigarette.

I believe that even the most fleeting moment of ecstasy is more important than an eternity of bliss.

Virtual Tin Cup

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