It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.
–Thich Nhat Hanh
Slow down everyone / You’re moving too fast / Frames can’t catch you / When you’re moving like that…
–Jack Johnson, “Inaudible Melodies”
[September 7, 2022]
Matthew turns four months old in a few days. He just got here, he’s always been here, he’ll always be here, and yet my baby is vanishing, and life moves entirely too fast. In a weird nonsensical kind of way, all of those things seem – or at least feel – true to me, and all at the exact same time.
What prompted this feeling was that I couldn’t get his first Dr. Seuss onesie on him properly the other day. Putting clothes on a baby is a little like trying to play fetch with a cat – it’s hard, it invites frustration, and you’re usually the only one of you thinking, “This is a good idea.” But trying to do it with an article of clothing your baby has definitely, certainly, regrettably outgrown is like trying to nail Jell-o to the wall.
I’ve been pretty stoic about a lot of baby transitions and ups and downs since his birth. For example, he had to get an upper GI procedure very soon after he was born, and I was steely and unfazed in my belief that this was gonna be fine, and if it wasn’t, we’d fix it, and then it would be fine.
But the onesie very nearly got me choked up. I’m sensitive, but I don’t cry often or hardly ever, for whatever reason. This threatened to break the blockade.
Some things, we can’t wait to pass and wish they’d never happened in the first place. Other things we want to hold static forever. Along comes my little boy, with a growing body and a too-small onesie to zap me with the teaching of impermanence, right there on the diaper changing table.
I’ll pass the mic to Thich Nhat Hanh for some brilliance he once said about this very subject:
“The work of acknowledging everything in mindfulness leads us to a deeper view of what life is. It is very important to understand that impermanence is not a negative aspect of life. Impermanence is the very basis of life.
“If what exists were not impermanent, no life could continue. If a grain of corn were not impermanent, it could not become a corn plant. If a tiny child were not impermanent, she could not grow into an adult.
“Life is impermanent, but that does not mean that it is not worth living. It is precisely because of its impermanence that we value life so dearly. Therefore we must know how to live each moment deeply and use it in a responsible way.
“If we are able to live the present moment completely, we will not feel regret later. We will know how to care for those who are close to us and how to bring them happiness. When we accept that all things are impermanent, we will not be incapacitated by suffering when things decay and die.
“We can remain peaceful and content in the face of continuity and change, prosperity and decline, success and failure.”
So into the donation bin you go, Dr. Seuss onesie. May you gently clothe a new baby, delight their parent, and not break hearts too much again when it’s time to move along, as another mother, father, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or older sibling marvels at their little one’s flourishing and coos: “You’re getting so big!”
And may my son grow in his own way, in his own time, and in his own fashion – on and on, in youth, adolescence, manhood, adulthood, inwardly, outwardly – and across the universe.
Oh, the places you’ll go!
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