My family — we’re experiencing something profoundly tragic. Something almost impossible to grasp: the death of Taina Marie, my sweet, 28-year-old niece. I cannot even begin to fathom the pain my sister is experiencing and I just don’t have the words. Some days, Taina’s passing is something ethereal, conceptual. Then there are the days that the realization that Taina is no longer with us hits me so hard, it’s almost as if I can’t breathe. I try to cry, but what comes out is a silent howl.
I can’t even imagine what it must be like for the rest of my family, especially my sister.
I believe that some things actually don’t pass, that there are events that change us forever. I think I speak for many people when I say that the last thing we want to hear when we’re in pain is some trite saying or scripture whether it’s a truism or not. When it comes to brand-spankin’-new pain, at the moment of impact clichés really have no place. I mean, would you run up to a victim of a pedestrian accident and blurt out, “This too shall pass?” Well, there probably are some people who would consider this, but I would guess it would at the very least be inappropriate. I don’t think people mean any harm, but responding to death is always an awkward exercise. This is especially true of a society in which people most often live in denial of the Grand Cosmic Joke that, no matter how many trips we take to Whole Foods, or how much we exercise, we all eventually die.
Nevertheless, clichés become clichés because at some level they contain truths. Some of the most important teachings that help us with life’s hardships are simple to understand intellectually, but harder to integrate holistically. It is only when we have managed some psychological distance from a traumatic experience that we can begin to understand a truth. The following is based on a true story…
Being in prison is depressing, to say the least, and as someone condemned to prison looked at his surroundings — the stone walls, the cold cell, the bars — he couldn’t help but feel the weight on life on his shoulders. As the days passed, and the reality of his sentence settled in, his heart sank lower. Then one day, he attended a mandatory meeting and he heard one of the speakers say, “This too shall pass.”
At first this caused him to feel resentment, but as the days passed and he allowed himself to be receptive to the truth of the words, the same words that initially caused him pain, seemed offer him solace and helped him through the days. One day, he printed those words on a blank sheet of legal pad paper, and he taped it above his bed and in that way, those were the last words he would see at the end of the day and the first words upon awakening. Eventually, he would pay an artist friend two packs of cigarettes so that now he had the words artistically engraved with fancy calligraphy on heavy stock paper. Regardless of the hopelessness of that prison environment, or how hard life became, he would look at those words and remember, “This too shall pass.”
On the day he was released, except for a few books, he gave away most of his belongings. As he was leaving, a friend asked about the sign, and he decided to leave it there, perhaps hoping those words would comfort the next resident of that cell.
As he went about picking up the piece of his life after his release from prison, he would continue giving away that message, speaking on it at meetings and sharing it with those close to him — many of whom were suffering. And even when times were bad, he never got depressed because he remembered the truth of, “This too shall pass.” And he often had to struggle, one day at a time, sometimes one breath at a time. It was a challenge to put things together and in many cases, there were broken things that would never be put aright. There were good times too, and he made sure to enjoy them, but never carelessly or mindlessly. In times of joy, he remembered again, “this too shall pass,” and so he continued living his life on life’s terms, not taking anything for granted, fully living in the joy but also fully experience the sorrows of life.
Years passed, and the rewards of his karmic actions accumulated, the formerly condemned person would become a lover and husband, a father, a dutiful son. But along with the victories came pain, and he would come to know intimately the experience of the loss of loved ones, of relationships lost, the trials, and tribulations of life. He buried cherished friends and family members, grieved the losses of love, and experienced the slings of betrayal. Even then, “This too shall pass” still gave him hope and served to keep him focused and directed.
And that was his message to his friends and family — to any who would listen. Finally, he understood that depression and sadness is a form of prison that “this too shall pass” helps us transcend. It is also one of the secrets to avoid depression, which is too often taking the happy times for granted. And the truth of “this too shall pass” helped him understand that certain events would make it impossible to go back. It helped him understand that sometimes it’s OK not to feel OK. That certain events take years to process and that truth of the matter is that even the surest things can change.
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…