You aren’t the same person you were a second ago

May 15th, 2009

I’m standing on a piece of land with a lake on one side and a river on the other. If I put my foot in the lake, the water only moves to displace my new presence. But when I put my foot in the river, there’s new water every instant replacing what was there when I first entered. Life, the universe, and everything is like the river. Even the lake.

Impermanence is about the only thing anyone can count on from birth to death. It’s the source of most of our pain, both physical and mental. It can force people to relive the past, dream about the future, or exist in the present, but it’s the latter that we’re all doing anyway. The river is rushing by us without stop and we have two options: we can move to the shoulder of the river that’s calm and slow moving, or we can let the current take us down stream. We can try and go upstream – but in this river, there are no boats, flappers, or anything to help us but ourselves and the water. Eventually we’ll tire of trying to fight the current and go along with everything else.

As with any analogy, life is more complicated than being a giant river. There are choices, opportunities, and the incessant messiness of being alive. And unlike a river, nothing is predestined – there is no single direction or destination, save for death. There’s a scene in the movie Synecdoche, New York where an actor playing a priest at a funeral gives a speech that explains this better than I can (I’m including the passage in its entirety because the entire message is important):

Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make; you can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for twenty years. And you’ll never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce. And they say there is no fate, but there is: it’s what you create. Even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain, wasting years, for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes or it seems to but doesn’t really. And so you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope for something good to come along. Something to make you feel connected, to make you feel whole, to make you feel loved. And the truth is I’m so angry and the truth is I’m so fucking sad, and the truth is I’ve been so fucking hurt for so fucking long and for just as long have been pretending I’m OK, just to get along, just for, I don’t know why, maybe because no one wants to hear about my misery, because they have their own, and their own is too overwhelming to allow them to listen to or care about mine. Well, fuck everybody. Amen. 

That’s life, well aspects of it. The only thing I can add is that the negativity and sadness of life as embraced in that passage can be countered with a special kind of happiness. This is the happiness that comes from being alive and being conscious enough to get to experience the whole thing. You may be suffering; hell, we’re all suffering for one reason or another, but being able to feel the suffering and still be alive is better than to not exist.

I’ve always understood impermanence as an intellectual concept, but only felt its realness in short bursts. However I can see a vast difference from the person I was two months ago (about when I lost my job) who I am right now writing this post. The change is even clearer when reading this blog and my two finished short stories.* My understanding of Twitter is not the same as when I last wrote about it. I no longer think Bloc Party’s album Intimacy is as good anymore. I’m not the same person who wrote those. A piece of him is still here guiding my understanding of all the new things happening to me. But as of this moment I am something new, and by the time you read this I’ll be someone else, riding the river’s current just happy that I get to go along for the ride.

*Trust me, I know those stories are bad. I’d tell you about my struggle to finish the next story, but it’d be better to just finish the next damn story.**

**And working on a better footnote system.

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