- We dole out our lives in dinner parties and plane flights, and it’s over before we know it. We lose everyone we love, if they don’t lose us first, and every single thing we do is intended to distract from that reality. [Armistead Maupin, Mary Ann in Autumn (Harper, 2010), p. 192.]
- Like an organism that perishes due to its failure to adapt to a changing environment, we hurtle ourselves against the relentless reality of impermanence until we perish from sheer exhaustion. The appearances to our senses are not the source of our frustration, misery, and despair. Rather, it is our clinging and attachment to them that causes us ceaseless unrest and dissatisfaction. [David Hodge and Hi-Jin Hodge, Impermanence: Embracing Change (Snow Lion Publications, 2009), p. 16.]
- Everything put together sooner or later falls apart. [Paul Simon, “Everything Put Together Falls Apart”.]
Young lovers promise to stay together forever. It is a promise no one can keep. If they are extraordinarily fortunate, one will watch the other slip peacefully into death seventy years hence.
Life is impermanent. Children grow up and leave home. Friends move away and drift away, and other friends take their place. Fads come and go. Customs change. Social orders are transformed. Even mountains do not last forever. Awareness of this fact provides a useful perspective for the things we will do, and the persons, places and situations we will encounter throughout life.
Technical and Analytical Readings
- David Hodge and Hi-Jin Hodge, Impermanence: Embracing Change (Snow Lion Publications, 2009).
- Ajahn Chah, Everything Arises, Everything Falls Away: Teachings on Impermanence and the End of Suffering (Shambhala, 2005).
- Alan Burdick, Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation (Simon & Schuster, 2017): “ . . . Burdick gently intertwines a captivating account of his own personal struggle with time — the modification of the sense and the organization of time that he is forced to undergo when his two delightful twin children are born and begin to grow up — with an extensive learned overview of the wealth of the last century and a half of laboratory experiments exploring the complex relation of living beings with time.”
- C. Sharman, Empires of the Weak: The Real Story of European Expansion and the Creation of the New World Order (Princeton University Press, 2019): “In Sharman’s account, the dominance of the West (note Europe’s easy baton-pass to the United States), roughly from the Enlightenment to World War II, represents a historical blip in the last millennium.”
All at once, in the midst of this profound calm, a fresh sound arose; a sound as celestial, divine, ineffable, ravishing, as the other had been horrible. It was a hymn which issued from the gloom, a dazzling burst of prayer and harmony in the obscure and alarming silence of the night; women's voices, but voices composed at one and the same time of the pure accents of virgins and the innocent accents of children,--voices which are not of the earth, and which resemble those that the newborn infant still hears, and which the dying man hears already. This song proceeded from the gloomy edifice which towered above the garden. At the moment when the hubbub of demons retreated, one would have said that a choir of angels was approaching through the gloom. Cosette and Jean Valjean fell on their knees. They knew not what it was, they knew not where they were; but both of them, the man and the child, the penitent and the innocent, felt that they must kneel. These voices had this strange characteristic, that they did not prevent the building from seeming to be deserted. It was a supernatural chant in an uninhabited house. While these voices were singing, Jean Valjean thought of nothing. He no longer beheld the night; he beheld a blue sky. It seemed to him that he felt those wings which we all have within us, unfolding. The song died away. It may have lasted a long time. Jean Valjean could not have told. Hours of ecstasy are never more than a moment. All fell silent again. There was no longer anything in the street; there was nothing in the garden. That which had menaced, that which had reassured him,--all had vanished. The breeze swayed a few dry weeds on the crest of the wall, and they gave out a faint, sweet, melancholy sound. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume II – Cosette; Book Fifth – For a Black Hunt, a Mute Pack, Chapter VI, The Beginning of an Enigma.]
- Armistead Maupin, Mary Ann in Autumn (Harper, 2010): "a tale of long-lost friends and unrealized dreams, of fear and regret, of penance and redemption - and of the unshakable sense that this world we love, this life we love, this drama in which we all play a part, does indeed go by much too fast." This novel follows on Maupin's previous Tales of the City novels, which trace the life and relationship of a journalist from her youth in San Francisco to New York and back.
Music: songs and other short pieces
- Paul Simon, Slip Slidin’ Away
- Five for Fighting, 100 Years
- Cat Stevens, Oh Very Young
- Nawang Khechog, Dagkar Taso Mila’s Cave
- Paul Simon, Everything Put Together Falls Apart
- B. King, The Thrill Is Gone
- Face Vocal Band, The Parting Glass
Film and Stage
- A Ghost Story: a man dies, becomes a ghost, observes his wife, creates havoc, travels through time, then in a moment of revelation ceases to exist.
- Everlasting Moments: a woman’s gift for photography, and her life
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Like everyone else, every artist dies. Here are some great artists who died at far too young an age.
- Michael Rabin, violinist (35)
- Jacqueline du Pré, cellist (Elgar, Schumann and Dvořák cello concerti) (42)
- Dinu Lipatti, pianist (43)
- Fritz Wunderlich, tenor (35)
- John Lennon, British pop singer and cultural icon (40)
- Jimi Hendrix, rock guitarist (27)
- Janis Joplin, rock singer (27)
- Otis Redding, soul and blues singer (25)
- Karen Carpenter, pop-ballad singer (32)
- Hank Williams, country singer (29)
- Patsy Cline, country singer (30)
- Robert Johnson, blues singer (26)
- Sam Cooke, rhythm & blues, and jazz singer (33)
- Jim Croce, pop/ballad singer (30)
- Jeff Buckley, rock and folk singer (30)
Here are some great composers who died far too young. But then, they all do.
- Franz Schubert (31)
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (35)
- Frédéric Chopin (39)
- Felix Mendelssohn (38)
- George Gershwin (38)
- Vincenzo Bellini (33)
- Guillaime Lekeu (24)
- Henry Purcell (35)
- Georges Bizet (36)
- Puccini, La Bohéme: complete performances conducted by Lopez-Cobos, Karajan and Serafin
- Lambert, Summer’s Last Will and Testament
- Górecki, String Quartet No. 1, “Already It Is Dusk”, Op. 62 (1988)
- Koppel, Marimba Concerto No. 4, “In Memory of Things Transient”: 1. Moderato; 2. Adagio; 3. Adagio.
- Finzi, Till Earth Outwears, Op. 19A
- Fennelly, Evanescences for Instruments & Electronic Tape (1969)
- Shchedrin, Dead Souls (1976), is an opera that is so dark that it could as well be classified as an ode to death. Yet the metaphors are so multi-faceted and so frequent that the opera is an homage to evanescence, as well.
- Bax, Into the Twilight (1908)
- Jeths, Symphony No. 1 for orchestra & mezzo soprano (2012): this symphony evokes the cycles of life but its ominous tone reminds us that life is impermanent.
- Jeths, Recorder Concerto (2014)
- Raga Yaman Kalyan, an evening raga (performances by Banerjee, Asad Ali Khan and Zia Mohiuddin Dagar): one scholar of Indian classical music likened this raga to “the beautiful face of a veiled woman that comes out of the veil occasionally but disappears behind it almost instantaneously”.
- Gloria Coates, String Quartet No. 6 (1999)
- Reale, Piano Sonata No. 12, “Stroke of Midnight” (2019): “. . . the elements of the Sonata are harsh reality and a confrontation with mortality” (composer Paul Reale)
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.
[Robert Frost, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”]
'The trouble with snowmen,' / Said my father one year / 'They are no sooner made / than they just disappear.
I'll build you a snowman / And I'll build it to last / Add sand and cement / And then have it cast.
And so every winter,' / He went on to explain / 'You shall have a snowman / Be it sunshine or rain.'
And that snowman still stands / Though my father is gone / Out there in the garden / Like an unmarked gravestone.
Staring up at the house / Gross and misshapen / As if waiting for something / Bad to happen.
For as the years pass / And I grow older / When summers seem short / And winters colder.
The snowmen I envy / As I watch children play / Are the ones that are made / And then fade away.
[Roger McGough, “The Trouble with Snowmen”]
Butterflies are white and blue
In this field we wander through.
Suffer me to take your hand.
Death comes in a day or two.
All the things we ever knew
Will be ashes in that hour:
Mark the transient butterfly,
How he hangs upon the flower.
Suffer me to take your hand.
Suffer me to cherish you
Till the dawn is in the sky.
Whether I be false or true,
Death comes in a day or two.
[Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Mariposa”]