This Too Shall Pass

About two years ago, I experienced a bout of summer love—exciting and dazzling, then gone on a summer wind. It hurt dearly at the time, and while I knew rationally that the pain would pass, the time still seemed to go by at a snail’s pace. I tried several coping mechanisms, from rationalization/complaining to drinking, but at most, those burned off some angst, which would pop back up again. Eventually, though, that hurt changed from a jolt you could feel in your fingertips to a general ache. More time passed, and that ache dissipated into a memory, like vapor. I have that memory with me now, and while I can recall the emotions involved, they don’t land the same punch. I know it hurt, but it doesn’t hurt anymore.  

As I was getting ready for church this morning, I mulled over this memory and thought about how the highs and lows of our lives are apparent only in hindsight. Some of that is the the result of the storytelling we do to make sense of the chaos. Like, in my story, that dalliance from two years ago is but a step towards the character I am today, who is stronger and wiser. That “failure” is an easy-to-see inflection point—a type of “death” that led to new life. Similarly, events that seemed like undoubtable benefits didn’t end up being as great as they initially promised. That isn’t always the case, of course: Positives can beget more positives, negatives can beget more negatives. But none of this is linear or predictable. Tons of changes are happening simultaneously—both quickly and glacially—and we tend to isolate the ones that are easily identifiable and/or critical in the story we wish to tell. 

Today’s readings at mass helped frame my thinking even further. The theme: Don’t focus so much on the worldly because all things—both good and bad—pass. Here are some select lines from the first reading, the second reading, and the Gospel.

First Reading, from the Book of Ecclesiastes:

Vanity of vanities!  All things are vanity!

Second Reading, from Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:
immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire,
and the greed that is idolatry. 

And from the Gospel of Luke:

But God said to him,
‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’

These select lines seem to burnish Catholicism’s reputation as a wet blanket. But with a little more digging, I think these three readings offer a very inspiring message.

That message: Be in the moment and don’t be so preoccupied with the minutiae because everything passes. Thus, spend as much time as you can doing good to make this life a little bit better, and when God calls you back home, you’ll have something to show for your time here on earth.

If you’re nursing a broken heart, these words won’t help much in the moment, I realize. I was there. But here I stand, two years later, telling you the pain will pass. My words are just that—words, which can’t make the hurt go away. But as someone who has been wandering the desert for almost a decade now, I have built up quite a reserve of experience. What you think is eternal will eventually be carried off by the summer wind. True whether you want it to or not.    

Beautiful People

I can’t stop listening to Ed Sheeran and Khalid’s song “Beautiful People.” The music video is sweet, too. In a nutshell: A homely couple ends up on a ballin’ vacation featuring lots of “beautiful people”—think models, moguls, and other “hip” types. Yet despite the pool parties, yachting, fashion shows, and late-night dance parties, this couple seems unfazed by it all. They aren’t intimidated; if anything, they are more bewildered by everything going on around them. They are perfectly comfortable with themselves, their bodies, and their preferences (e.g., sudoku vs. cocktail mingling). It’s an uplifting story.

Personally speaking, I’d find it difficult to not be intimidated by beautiful people, despite knowing better. Let’s put aside the part where looks aren’t everything (as hard as it might be to remember sometimes). Rationally, I know the price one must pay for superficial perks, too. That price isn’t just monetary: It’s also mental and emotional. If you lead a superficial lifestyle, your worth ultimately depends on other people’s evaluations of you, and those evaluations can be fluid and fickle. It took me the better part of a decade to get to a place of being OK with oneself in totality, and even that is an ongoing battle. I’m not saying everyone’s experience is like mine—kudos to you if you've possessed a strong sense of self-worth from an earlier age—but it seems like that is one of the tradeoffs of living in a society, especially one as interconnected as ours. Peer pressure doesn’t stop, whether you’re a teenager, a young professional, or (I assume) a senior citizen. What does evolve, hopefully, is one’s maturity in order to balance the relentless pressures imposed by society to conform. 

Mind you, I’m not saying, “Never conform!” is the way to go, either. There is a balance to be struck. There is always a balance to be struck. But that is a post for another day.