Life's Impermanence, October 1

One of the great themes of literature has always been life's impermanence. Poets and playwrights have looked at the human condition and marveled that everything has its moment and then passes away almost beyond memory. The poet Robert Herrick, who wrote, "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may", was saying in his own way that the fresh flower of today will be withered tomorrow and dust eventually. And Shakespeare, who was quite taken with impermanence, noted, "Imperious Ceasar, dead and turned to clay, might stop a hole and keep the wind away". What is Ceasar now? In his time he could command armies with the wave of his hand. His slightest inclination became the law of Rome. His coming scattered fears and awe in the hearts of men. But now when we walk the broad plains where his armies fought, we can't even hear the echo of their trumpets. The glory that was ancient Rome is just so many ruins, a pleasant stop for tourists.

Life's impermanence must also strike the visitor to the graveyard. Row after row of markers, give us names and dates that barely hint of the person buried there. Their hopes and struggles for earthly dreams had their time and then faded. Robert Frost looked around him at the first color of spring and then said it this way, "Nothing gold can stay."

What are we to make of a world where each of us struts on the stage for so few hours? What were we to think of a world where today's hot personality featured in every magazine is forgotten tomorrow? The newspaper that wields power and shapes current opinion will one day print its last issue. Whole civilizations may rise and fall. Where now is ancient Greece, Tsarist, Russia, Babalonia?

Such contemplations coupled with our own inability to clutch at time, which is forever running past us, ought to teach us two things. First, it is the folly of the shortsighted who put too much faith in things that are impermanent. Power, pomp, wealth and earthly honor are not true rewards for they bring with them the assurance of their passing. Only the laws of God and His promises are eternal. And second, in a world where nothing gold can stay, we ought to learn to appreciate those things that are the patterns for eternity. Relish the love of loved ones. Cherish moments together as if they were our last. Memorize the way our child looks when he turns his cheek just so. Fashion in our mind forever the laughter of our parents for those times when they are gone.

Thinking about the impermanence of life ought not to make us sad. It ought to teach us to treat it as we would all fragile things - with care.

Pastor Hans Lillejord