When we were kids, and grieved some ill or injustice, my mother would say, “This too shall pass.” We never believed her, and she was always right.
I need her back. I’m feeling stuck in all kinds of impossibilities and griefs at present. That’s why my friend Jean’s photo—the phrase THIS IS ONLY TEMPORARY stenciled on a concrete barrier by the Great Miami River—speaks so strongly. The phrase carries the weight of consoling prophecy, and Jean’s discovery of it was a piece of lovely synchronicity. She was returning from a ceremonial walk to the riverbank with students in an urban art immersion camp. They had spent a week constructing colored sand paintings in the Buddhist and Native American traditions, and had just swept up their work and cast the sands into the river, a part of the ritual of this ephemeral art form. Jean and the artists and students were feeling a bit low at the loss of their work, and stumbling upon this piece of found street art felt like a hug.
I’m feeling low for opposite reasons—things don’t feel temporary enough—but I’m using the photo as a prompt to remind myself of 5 things that will pass, no matter how concrete-wall permanent they feel at the moment.
1. This Heat
Believe me, I know how whiny it is to complain about the heat wave that has locked the Midwest in an unbearable shirt of flame for what seems like two months, ratcheting up to new records every day. I have air conditioning, and didn’t lose power in the storms that passed through last weekend. I’m not homeless, or fighting in Afghanistan, or sweating in the fevered streets of Mumbai. I am not endangered by wildfires. But I am a large woman in a hot, humid city, and there is no better reminder of the woes of the flesh. This kind of heat scrambles my brains.
It’s supposed to break tomorrow night, though part of me can’t buy it. The climatologists say this might be the new normal. Dayton has already been reclassified one agricultural zone warmer this year. I make no claims about the causes of climate change—it’s way too hot to argue—but it’s undeniable we’re dealing with it in some form, for some duration.
But not for ever, or at least so I pray. I’m not generally swayed by hellfire-and-brimstone Christianity—I’m more with Dante in imagining hell to be the ice-cold aloneness of God-rejecting pride—but this kind of weather has me remembering Sr John Mark, in second grade, saying “You know how much it hurts when you touch a hot stove and burn your finger? Imagine that, a hundred times worse, all over, forever.” Oh. I want my longing for heaven to be all about union with God, but an eternal staycation in green pastures by restful waters makes a mighty fine motivation, too.
2. The November Presidential Election
Can all of Satan’s minions or all of Guantanamo’s interrogation enhancers come up with any worse torture than political campaign ads? Four more months of this? A pox on all your houses! Between Romney’s hiding behind Hillary Clinton’s skirts, er, pantsuits, and the President’s team ginning up more War on Women twaddle (“Economy? What economy? Look, a vagina under siege!”), I am so over it.
I know there are people on all sides claiming that the fate of the country, the Church, women, the planet hangs on this election. I can’t go there. I think we deflect too much responsibility for the Fate of Everything onto this one contest, when life is so much more complicated than that. I don’t expect the culture wars to end on November 6, no matter who wins, though in the long run they too shall pass. In the short run, thank God, the damn ads will be gone . . . for a few months, anyway.
There are days—hot days, especially—when it seems we will never stop sniping at one another. We don’t wear the right clothes, or sing the right hymns, or pray in the right direction or language or translation, or serve the right poor, or respect the right individual conscience or magisterial authority, or use the right dishes, or bar Communion to the right people, or stand up for the right Catholic values. I’ve been spending more time looking at how the secular society vilifies Catholics, or how intolerant tolerant folks from other traditions can be toward us, because frankly it’s so disheartening to stay at the family table during the food fights.
It seems endless, but I know that these internecine wranglings are only temporary in the literal sense. The combatants have human shelf lives, and we will die off and take our quarrels with us. New ones may arise, but it will take a few generations to work up the level of sibling rivalry we’ve achieved in the 5o years since Vatican II. The Church, like the Dude, will endure.
4. Our Flight from Love
There’s been more evidence in the news this week of the weary world’s continued attempt to escape from love and life into the sterility of population control and the wasteland of mindless, heartless, meaningless sex. It’s been a long run, and like so many human ventures that turn out to be disastrous, it began with good intentions—or so we tell ourselves. Though it may seem that it’s too late to turn the juggernaut around, perhaps that’s not giving enough credit to natural law touched with grace, that alchemical wedding that works in each one of us like the seed growing secretly. Maybe the flight from love will collapse under its own impossible weight, and sooner rather than later.
I think I’ve seen a sign of change—as tiny and ambiguous as the “cloud the size of a hand” that signaled the end of Israel’s killing drought in Elijah’s day—at, of all places, the movie theater. I can’t write in too much detail about Moonrise Kingdom now without spoiling the wonder for folks whose benighted habitations the film hasn’t yet reached. But a second viewing only reinforces what struck me the first time: If such a king of hipster irony as Wes Anderson can give us so unabashed a celebration of the real magic of love and innocence and commitment and second chances as this, there’s hope.
5. The Long Loneliness
The thing I never believe will pass is at the root of all my ills and grievances, from heat waves to wanting to give Melinda Gates a good anti-genocidal shake—the lie that I am alone, that each of us is alone and powerless and unloved and stuck. Dorothy Day named that illusion “the long loneliness.” It’s my greatest and most unrelenting test of faith, believing that this loneliness is only temporary, and I have no resources to snap myself out of it.
So when, as now, I am up against the concrete barrier of Too Sad, Too Broke, Too Tired, Why Bother? I have to lean on the wisdom of others.
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:12-13)
There’s Teresa of Avila:
Nada te turbe, nada te espante, todo se pasa,
Dios no se muda, la paciencia todo lo alcanza,
quien a Dios tiene nada le falta: sólo Dios basta.
Let nothing disturb you, let nothing affright you,
All things are passing, God alone never changes,
Patience obtains everything,
Who has God lacks nothing: God alone suffices.
And there’s Mom:
This too shall pass.