Friday, March 1, 2013

Everything Is Impermanent (revisited)


I wrote not long ago about lessons that life was teaching me about the impermanence of, well, everything. I just got another reminder.

I was looking for something in a box of old papers. I didn’t find what I was looking for, but I did find an old college paper that I must have thought was brilliant at the time because I saved it. I never save anything. As best I can tell, it was a philosophy paper. I’m quite sure it definitively answered all the deep questions of life once and for all.

But...I can’t read it. Back in the dark ages of my college education, apparently we were allowed to write our papers in pencil. And in an unintended scientific experiment, I have now discovered that papers written in pencil and then stored for decades in boxes in the attic will fade until the writing is so faint that most words are illegible.

Sigh. Like a supernova, my solutions to the universal questions burned brightly and were gone. And I can’t recreate them because I’m not half as smart now as I was when I wrote them.

Here today gone tomorrow, so don’t get attached to things. ~Maude, in “Harold and Maude”

55 comments:

  1. Galen, I laughed when I read this. I still have some old college papers, and not only does pencil fade, so does typewriter ink.

    I'm sure you had some good ideas back then, even though you can't review them now. It was the beginning of your journey! I think when we're still in college, writing papers on all the deep ideas of life, it's hard to imagine that that is just the beginning.

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    1. Tina, I don't know if my ideas were good or not, but I do remember thinking they were so original and then later realizing that many other people had thought about them already! Glad to share a laugh with you today. Thanks for commenting.

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    2. hey Galen - they were probably good but like Tina mentioned, the beginning. They may not have been the most original and you may have seen those ideas later everywhere else but your writing and reflections from your perspective, as they are now, are 100% unique and original :)

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  2. Ha..... Harold and Maude. I remember he gave her something (can't recall what it was) and she immediately tossed it and said, "Now I'll always know where it is."
    You don't really think you were smarter in college, do you? You were kidding. Sometimes it's hard to tell on writing.

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    1. Manzanita, If my memory is correct (it often isn't), he gave her a token that he had made in a machine. He gave it to her as they were sitting on a bank overlooking some water. She threw it into the water.

      Was I really smarter in college? Perhaps my mind was more agile then. I certainly had more mental focus and stamina--I could study for hours and hours. But I definitely wasn't "life smart." When I was teaching in law school, I saw my younger self in many of my students. Their minds were quick and sharp, but they lacked judgment and wisdom.

      Was I ever as brilliant as I alleged in the post? Now that was definitely kidding!!

      Thanks for commenting.

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  3. So true, Galen, so very true! I was recently checking Amazon to see how my remaining books -- published between 1979 and 2008 -- were doing and found that most were out of print and the rest being sold at heart-breaking bargain prices. The tangible signs of a successful writing career are just as ephemeral as those old pencil-written college papers and discovering this is just another step of letting go and being at peace with what is.

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    1. Kathleen, That is a great example. When I retired from teaching law, so many people talked about my legacy and how I would be remembered. But I knew that as soon as the current students graduated, no one would remember me at all! Well, not the students anyway. Fame is elusive, or at best fleeting for most of us. But for successful writers such as yourself, there is always the next book to put you back on top! Thanks for commenting.

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  4. Beautifully written, Galen. I am slowly teaching myself not to get too attached to anything, because like what you said, nothing is permanent, whether it be things, people, relationships, etc. I guess it is something that we should learn to accept.

    God bless <3 :-)

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    1. Irene, We cause ourselves so much suffering with our attachments to things that are inherently impermanent. Acceptance is the key, but not always so easy! Thanks for your comment.

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  5. Absolutely Galen!

    I loved the quote in the end too, which says it all. We do tend to get attached to things and people, and I think that's part of human nature too. But we are the ones who suffer when they are gone later. I guess it's best to not let them affect you, though I know it's easier said than done. :)

    Thanks for sharing:)

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    1. Harleena, So true. It is human nature, and we do cause ourselves suffering by virtue of it. It's easier for me when I can step back into the bigger perspective, but as you say, easier said than done. Thanks for your comment.

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  6. Had to smile, because it made me think of all my pencil ramblings when l was in college - l wrote poetry everywhere too - in pencil! A little sad to think how fast life has passed by up till now, at the same time it makes me want to apprechiate every moment of what is left be it forty years or four. Blessings Pam

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    1. Pam, I wrote poetry, too! I had a whole stack of it in my college dorm room. During a break, the housekeeper threw away all my poetry. No computers back then so it was gone forever. One of my first lessons in impermanence! Thanks for commenting.

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  7. Harold and Maude was one of my favorites when I was young...might be a good time to watch that one again! Remember Cat Stevens, "If you want to sing out, sing out, and if you want to be free, be free..."

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    1. Julie, My favorite movie of all time. I don't even know how many times I've seen it! And yes, I remember all the songs, and I've quoted that one before. Thanks for commenting.

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  8. Accepting these changes with good humor shows me you have the answer you couldn't read on the paper. Nicely revealed!

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    1. Mikey, I might not be as smart as I was then, or at least as smart as I thought I was then(!),but I do have a much better sense of humor! Thanks for the kind words.

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  9. Galen,
    Love the quote at the end. I try to never get attached to "things" because it can be somewhat devastating when you realize they're gone forever. Just think of all the masterpieces done in pencil that we've lost over time. However, I believe that the solutions to everything are still inside us even after time erases the hard copy. =)

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    1. Kris, That quote comes from a wonderful movie, if you ever get a chance to watch it. I like your idea that we have all the answers we need right inside. Thanks for your comment.

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  10. That's what we get for digging around in old boxes and portfolios [you and me both this week Galen] It's funny when our lofty aspirations come back to remind us of who we are and what we stand for. Our earliest attempts I think are the least polluted. They are pure of heart and innocent. What a shame your words have been lost... but I tend to agree with Kris [above] that everything that ever was... is still inside us somewhere just bursting to get out [on a side note - I bet there's a way for you to retrieve those words via forensic methods - maybe google it - or take it to the police station] LOL

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    1. Jean, I'm sure the words were brilliant only in my own mind at the time. They are better left in the past, I'm sure. Always glad to see you here. Thanks for commenting.

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  11. I am smiling on this one; I have a few papers just like that. I am concerned about a some pencil written letters by my grandfather sent to his mother when he served in the First World War and was killed over in France. They are a treasure and I can still read what is on most of them. It is one of those things that I plan to get on the computer. This was a perfect post to get me to schedule time to do that before I won't be able to read them.
    Blessings!

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    1. LeAnn, My college paper is no great loss, but those letters would be. I hope you preserve them for future generations. Thanks for your comment.

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  12. I threw out all my papers and, most recently, my beat up Shakespeare text. I remember that I took the class and loved it - with the book or without it.

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    1. Linda, I tend to throw things out as well. That's why I was surprised I kept this paper. I guess you and I don't think that we'll ever be famous enough for people to care about these things after we're gone! (Or, in my case, it's better if they don't know!) Thanks for your comment.

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  13. When we were in our twenties, we thought we were the brightest star in the sky. My take is, you're probably better off not being able to read those faded pencil marks . . . God does know what's best. And, truthfully, I REALLY don't want to find my college papers! :)
    Love and blessings, Galen!

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    1. Martha, You are so right! Much better to imagine how clever this paper was than to read it and be embarrassed! You are wise, my friend. Thanks for commenting.

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  14. So many memories, Galen! :) I've found old letters and college papers and the like also in pencil and have discovered the same reminder of life's impermanence.

    I love the statement that you are no longer as smart as you were in college. Oh the things we thought in our younger years, only to realize later how immature our thinking was.

    It reminds me of the old saying that when I was young, my parents were so incredibly dumb. But as I age, they're getting smarter! :)

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    1. Ken, Yes, I love that saying. Amazingly, as I get even older, my parents, even though they are long gone, continue to get smarter! Thanks for commenting.

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  15. I'd argue you are wiser now than when you wrote them because of the additional few decades of experience which is our greatest teacher. So if anything, you would refine, rebut and enhance any previous papers/thoughts.

    And the best part of this story is how even philosophy (yours and even the greatest philosophers of the world) share ideas, thoughts which are impermanent as well. I'm with Martha - probably a good idea they are gone. But I would probably still take out a magnifying glass and look atthe print under bright lights to see if I can make out my handwriting. haha :)

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    1. Vishnu, I don't know. I seem to be less and less sure about what I know as I get older. The good news is that I seem to be less and less concerned about what I know--ha! Thanks for your comment.

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  16. The law of impermanence has really been instrumental in shaping my perspective towards reality. Great post. :) I'm sorry that your paper wasn't clearer though!

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    1. Jessica, I don't think it was any great loss. Thanks for your sympathetic comment.

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  17. Oh heavens. I'm hoping now that I wrote all my old journals in pencil, so I won't ever have the embarrassment of having to read them again. I'm sure I was quite the idiot in my younger years. :)

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    1. Jennifer, I wrote my journals in ink, unfortunately, so I had to burn them! Actually, it was a very healing and cleansing thing to do. Thanks for your comment.

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  18. First of all, thank you for following my blog - growingoldgratefully.blogspot.com
    And this is so true how we think we are so brilliant at 20, then discover as we age; not so much. Enjoyed!

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    1. Barbara, So true! Thanks for commenting.

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  19. Relieved that you didn't announce your are wrong about impermanence! :)

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    1. Sandra, No, it is only confirmed again!

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  20. I just hoard and one fine day I find so much out there that I think i should get rid of them all. Attachment?!?! Well maybe but after a point those attachments become clutter and tend to clog positive energies.

    This too shall pass.

    Thanks for this gracious remainder, Galen.

    Joy always,
    Susan

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    1. Susan, No kidding. My garage seems to reproduce clutter like rabbits. I clean it out every year or so, and before I know it, stuff is piled up again in there. Thanks for commenting.

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  21. If only it was that easy... I get attached to a lot of stuff!!
    :(

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    1. Punam, We all do. But when it's time to let it go, can we release it without adding to our suffering? That is my challenge. Thanks for your comment.

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  22. Beautifully told, Galen. I love your everyday stories that are filled with profound wisdom. Thank you!

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  23. Galen,
    Now you are smart enough to know all that you don't know. :)

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    1. Jodi, Then I am very smart indeed! Thanks for your comment.

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  24. i bet it would have been interesting to see how your perspectives have changed...

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    1. I suspect I would have had a good laugh at my youthful self! Thanks for your comment.

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  25. Too funny Galen! I think it may be the Universe's way of telling you that you need to figure it all out again!
    Speaking of so many years ago. I was cleaning up a closet the other day and came across two copies of the manuscript for my first book (never published). One copy had been typed out and the other was a photocopy! It's about three inches thick, though it was double-spaced, as those things used to be! Yikes!
    Should I burn them - or at least one?
    Lori

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    1. Lori, I think the Universe is telling you to publish your first book! Thanks for your comment.

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  26. I once went on a trip to China with my best friend and she was the designated photographer. She took hundreds of photos, but later found out the camera was not working and no pictures came from that trip. We were at the Great Wall, up in Mongolia in a yurt, in Beijing on a bicycle, but all we have is our memories of this trip. It was hard, but somehow I've decided that perhaps memories are the best pictures. Great post!

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    1. Katherine, What a disappointment. But you are right. Not having a visible record doesn't negate anything about the trip. A trip, by the way, that sounds like a wonderful adventure! Thanks for commenting.

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  27. This made me laugh. Thank you for it. The value of continually acknowledging the impermanence of life is so important to enjoying the present moment. Hope you are doing well.

    www.findingonespath.blogspot.com

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