It hits me at the most unexpected of times… at the public pool proudly watching my granddaughter mustering up the courage to jump off the high dive… at a sidewalk café when the glow of a fading twilight peeks past a cloud and backlights my wife’s face in a halo of gold… at the wedding of a friend’s daughter as she looks lovingly into the eyes of her betrothed and recites the vows she has written.
I am flushed with sheer joy, when suddenly, without warning, tears steeped in utter sadness wet my cheeks.
I know what is behind this yin and yang. As I open my heart to embracing the rapture of life I can’t close my eyes to its unalterable transience. Accepting this reality is the gift and the millstone of growing older.
When my granddaughter jumps into my arms yelling “Papa, Papa,” my breath is washed with pure oxygen, enhancing my capacity to love tenfold. But there is no escaping what is inexorable: Life and Death oppose each other and contain each other, each complementing the other.
I make a choice. I can be in the present moment, fully appreciative of an instant of time that has touched me deeply; or absorbed in the thrall of melancholy grieving for a future moment that I will never know.
I decide to be cheerful or to be sad. You would think the choice is a no-brainer. Oddly enough, it is not so cut and dried. Although more often than not I opt for the exhilaration of the heartfelt moment, there is something seductive about sinking into the gentle sadness of the ‘pathos of things.’
Because I know the moment is fleeting, my appreciation of its significance is enhanced. But at the same time, I feel sadness at how quickly the actual experience becomes an anecdote of memory. The sadness deepens knowing that the transient moment is a reminder that life itself is impermanent.
The Japanese call this Mono no aware: an awareness that the transience of all things heightens appreciation of their beauty and evokes a gentle sadness at their passing.
I’ve come to accept the gusts of sadness that come out of nowhere. When tears accompany the feelings I try to find the source of the grief they speak to, uncovering the unresolved issues of the past. It’s helpful for me to do that because I know that putting to rest whatever remains unsettled from my past will ease my trepidation about what is to come.