One of the few lines of French poetry I know by heart is from Baudelaire (d. 1867): “Où sont les neiges d’antan?” (“Where are the snows of yesteryear?”) Indeed. One of the chief properties of snow is its short lifespan. There are exceptions, to be sure, as in arctic regions. But even that’s changing thanks to global warming. Here in temperate zones, the plow-constructed seemingly indestructible dirt-streaked mountains of the stuff in parking lots eventually trickle away in the warming days of spring...
So why am I talking about all this when it’s a 93-degree Fahrenheit late-July day outside my swamp-cooler-secured home office? For a few reasons. First, I marvel at the fact that the gerund melting can refer to something that can happen to mounds of snow in the cold of winter or to us two-leggeds in the heat of summer. I also remember a helpful youth sermon a young Lutheran pastor preached to help us children of all ages understand the three-in-one conundrum of the Holy Trinity. The unitary divinity, he explained, can be understood by analogy with water. Although manifesting as a solid (ice), a liquid (water), or a gas (water vapor), all three forms are the same essential thing: H2O. All of which brings me to my most important reason for writing this blog. While I am essentially the same person now at nearly 84 that I was at four, my body these days is much larger, heavier, and more endowed with wrinkles than 80 years ago. Moreover, my understanding of myself, other individuals, and the world has grown exponentially. I believe it was Hippocrates who noted that you can’t enter the same river twice. The name and place may remain the same, but the water you put your feet into has changed.
What got me into this theme is my spiritual association’s national newsletter which arrived in my e-inbox yesterday. It provided photos and obits for four individuals I had known and loved over my 62+ years as a practitioner of the Subud spiritual exercise. One had babysat my younger daughter as a toddler. (She turns 52 in two days.) Two others, a long-time married couple who passed within eight days of each other, I remember as a young, dynamic pair. The fourth I knew as a lovely youngish middle-ager in the American Midwest during my time decades ago as the Regional Subud chairperson. All were younger than me. Where indeed are the snows of yesteryear?! I recall my practice these days of opening the local daily newspaper and looking at the obituaries. I’ll admit to a sigh of relief whenever the deceased person was born before me. On the upside, to be sure, I’ll occasionally remember the early 20th-century German author Thomas Mann’s essay “In Praise of Transitoriness” (“Lob der Vergänglichkeit”). In it Mann argues that permanence, even of seemingly unchangeable things like my neighboring Rocky Mountains, is not a property of created reality. But it is that very fact, he states, which gives meaning and beauty to whatever is now. I also remember a German saying: Alles geht zu Ende, und auch Du! (Everything ends, and that includes you!) So, borrowing a leaf from the 12-Step Programs, we may as well “get with the Program.” After all, “it works if we work it, and we’re worth it.” To which let us say, “Amen!”