The Freedom of Passing Away

Driving home yesterday past beach houses and small businesses, the thought popped into my mind, “All this will pass away.” To my surprise, the observation felt peaceful rather than panicked.

Of course it’s easier not to feel panicked when looking at someone else’s house or houses in general rather than lives. And I wasn’t thinking about a tsunami, though that could happen. I was thinking about a local shopping center that’s getting a facelift. A friend and I meet there every week to run, and as the new facades go up, we can see its modern look replacing the current, worn-down exterior. Before it was shopping center, orange or almond groves stood there.

We’ve all seen this kind of change. It can happen suddenly and violently—like the destruction happening in any number of wars around the world right now—or slowly, like the old, abandoned cabins that still dot the Western landscape.

We like some changes—people want their children to learn and grow. On the other hand, we as a society have decided that we would like to stop aging around 30.

This type of hanging on prevents us from participating in what is actually happening. There’s a sense of liveliness that comes with not trying to pin down the present and make it stick around. I used to fight the whole idea of detachment. I thought it meant you couldn’t care or feel deeply about things, but now I think it means something closer to accepting things as they are. The little seaside town I was driving through will pass away, whether in ten years or at the death of our sun.

I’m not suggesting that change is always easy or that we in our humanity will always feel equipped to handle it, but if we can see that movement is the nature of existence, we can hang on a little less and be present a little more. There is a great freedom in the truth that every moment everything is both passing away and becoming new.

Here is a poem by Joanna Klink about entering into a sudden change. This poem arrived in my email thanks to the Academy of American Poets poem-a-day program.

On Falling (Blue Spruce)

Dusk fell every night. Things
fall. Why should I
have been surprised.

Before it was possible
to imagine my life
without it, the winds

arrived, shattering air
and pulling the tree
so far back its roots,

ninety years, ripped
and sprung. I think
as it fell it became

unknowable. Every day
of my life now I cannot
understand. The force

of dual winds lifting
ninety years of stillness
as if it were nothing,

as if it hadn’t held every
crow and fog, emptying
night from its branches.

The needles fell. The pinecones
dropped every hour
on my porch, a constant

irritation. It is enough
that we crave objects,
that we are always

looking for a way
out of pain. What is beyond
task and future sits right

before us, endlessly
worthy. I have planted
a linden, with its delicate

clean angles, on a plot
one tenth the size. Some change
is too great.

Somewhere there is a field,
white and quiet, where a tree
like this one stands,

made entirely of
hovering. Nothing will
hold me up like that again.

3 thoughts on “The Freedom of Passing Away

  1. Thank you, Rachel. It’s good to hear more about the path of coming into the present. And that is an immense poem. The blog and the poem really complement each other. I don’t think I would have heard the poem without first reading your blog. : )

  2. As always this poem and your words, about being present yet savoring past as it disappears, take me to the trees of my life. HUGE (very messy) pines line our back yard – not a big yard. They sway and creak when the wind is fierce. The work of clearing cones, fallen branches, and zillions of needles in the garden below the trees is part of our spring life. My husband would like to lose them all. So far I shake my head. “Maybe one,” I concede. He has stopped talking about it. The yard’s now almost clear and he doesn’t really want another big task (expense) like the taking down of one tree, let alone 5. I am moved to consider what exactly these trees mean to me.
    A block away is the “forest” side of a city park where, while walking woodsy paths, we regularly we see what wind does to OLD trees. Uprooted, many of them obstruct the paths, creating hurdles we must jump. Eventually someone comes with a cordless chain saw to clear the path….. Then all the neighborhood watchers see how a tree becomes home and food for so many bugs and rodents, snakes and bunnies. A jungle gym for squirrels and a welcomed seat for the old ones who need to rest a while. Grateful for trees and poems and thought-provoking storyteller-writers.

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