It may be hard to truly grasp. It still is sometimes for me. But the impermanence of everything — relationships, friendships, wealth, poverty, days, weeks, and years — is fraught with its own consistency. Nothing but impermanence, or transience, seems to be permanent.
As a writer, it’s really hard to write. (This, sadly, is also consistent.) There are hundreds, thousands — oh, hell — millions of thoughts swirling in my head, and I’ve been struggling to deal with each one that comes along. It’s like reaching out to catch the dust that you see flying past you through a stream of sunshine: In short, friggin’ impossible. As a result, my brain is overloaded, and I push the important thoughts that could make me feel better to a back seat while the self-recriminating ones scurry forward to hop on their own Elaine roller-coaster ride of negative emotions.
Moving through the consistency of impermanence
The word “transience” refers to something that will only last a short time, no matter how intensely we love it. Transience, in fact, speaks to the exact idea that impermanence is consistent and always will be: Nothing can last forever. There are many who believe in an afterlife (and wherever that is, I do hope there’s Wi-Fi), but even with that, this life, this existence, is transient. Life on earth doesn’t come back. For those who believe in re-incarnation (such as our beloved Phoebe Buffay), even that principle goes with different lives being led.
When studying in my psychology classes these last two years, I became rather fascinated with Freud. Many of you who know me well might be smirking at this very declaration, as you know which things about Freud that are likely to fascinate me the most. Despite agreeing and disagreeing with him simultaneously, I find him to be a wonder. He was a man who defied so many norms of his time to delve deeper into the human psyche and bring up countless options that no one had considered before. He appeared to have a window into the human mind and soul that no one else had yet attempted to tamper with and that, even now, many are afraid to approach.
What is our transience like?
Since then, even we, as mere human beings, occasionally open ourselves up to what is around us and see more than we are used to. Even this is consistent for me. Sometimes I will be in a public place and briefly meet eyes with a person, and in that moment, those few seconds of human connection, it occurs to me that I know nothing. I have no idea what this person carries inside of them, what memories cause them to smile, to cry, to hold back or push forward. I have no perception of their life at home beyond my own thoughts of what humans do every day, and I can know nothing of who they truly are while I remain a stranger. But they, like me, have problems and dreams and loves and rages. As we both move on through whatever we are doing, I feel a sense of overwhelming perplexity at the vast experience around me that only I ever glimpse. It always leaves me feeling a little lost, a little in awe, and transports me into long thoughts of existence like this one, thoughts that often, again, get pushed back.
I watched people around me in the bulk savings store just yesterday. I saw kids of all ages, adults of all ages. One mother was with her son and getting ice. Why? I specifically remember seeing a woman with little kids — as little as I remember being not so long ago (or so it feels). They were sitting at a table, eating pizza, and it hit me (again) that these people and so many others are around me all the time, and I have no idea who they are. I don’t know if they are happy, depressed, mourning, happy in their job, or anything. It could be argued, “Who really needs to know that about everyone anyway?” But these things that I wonder about others are things that I worry over for myself and my friends and family. These people are human, like me. What is their own humanity like?
Freud acknowledged not only the powers of the human mind that none of us could fully grasp but the impermanence, the fragility of human emotion and life. The fact is that every living thing around us will at some point be gone, and our own impermanence is something we cannot avoid. Humans have been looking into so many things for so many years to help prolong life and even make it infinite.
What will humanity look like if that ever happens? What will be the norm of everyday life? Will people miss the chance to die, to embrace impermanence so that they can enjoy more moments?
The fragility of life is exactly what disturbed Freud’s poet friend, Rilke, who mourned the would-be loss of what was around him and that even the love we feel for others, while it feels permanent, cannot prevent it from leaving — in life or death. This means that no matter how much you — or I — love someone, we can’t stop them from either walking away from us completely or leaving us in death.
A discussion on this made me ponder, most particularly the statement, “That’s why sometimes I feel nostalgic over something that I haven’t lost yet, because I see its transience.” Many times, in this crazy brain of mine, I have wondered over what I enjoy and how I have felt its fragility, its inevitable decay in some shape or form. And I sigh over what might be or most certainly will be and try to return to my present, where life still lives and love is tangible.
This doesn’t take away the sense I have, the fruitless grasp as I said before, of thoughts and emotions that fly like dust. It doesn’t stop me from trying to make it all lay out in words of sense in a plain line before me. But I can’t make the thoughts collapse in a soft pile of acceptance or make them calm enough to sort through.
None of us can. So why, then, do we continue in our ways of love and enjoyment, knowing it will all someday be just like the dust in the sunshine? Why do we press forward and surround ourselves with friends and flowers and love that cannot possibly stay forever?
Freud states it perfectly: “But this demand for immortality is a product of our wishes too unmistakable to lay claim to reality: what is painful may none the less be true. I could not see my way to dispute the transience of all things, nor could I insist upon an exception in favour of what is beautiful and perfect. But I did dispute the pessimistic poet’s view that the transience of what is beautiful involves any loss in its worth.”
We do it because loving makes us human. Loving makes us real. And what point is there to this life if we cannot be real enough to experience it all?