Two months ago, I was sitting in my friend Mike Kelton’s Carroll Gardens backyard, surrounded by climbing ivy, shaded by a tall tree, watched over by an alabaster Buddha head. We talked, then he played me India.Arie’s “This Too Shall Pass” while we sipped hard seltzers in silence.
The one that loved me the most
Turned around and hurt me the worst
Been doing my best to move on
But the pain just keeps singing me songs
But then I hear a whisper that this too shall pass
I hear the angels whisper that this too shall pass
My ancestors whisper that this day will one day be the past
So I walk in faith that this too shall pass
“‘This too shall pass’ is so double-sided,” I said to Mike. “The bad times pass, but the good times pass too.” That’s about as deep as White Claw-influenced conversations go.
Since then, “this too shall pass” has become a mantra I revisit often—I’ve heavily reflected on impermanence, and my deep discomfort with it. I read When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön—an American Tibetan Buddhist—and encountered a way of thinking that was foreign to me; it’s like Lean In, but for pain. Chödrön writes about Buddhist principles that are meant to help us transcend our desire to hold on too tightly; we demand that the world stay exactly as it is, when in reality, we know it cannot and will not. For as long as we live, things will come together, and then they will fall apart. Rather than despair over the inevitable unraveling, Chödrön recommends ways to live in the now, from meditation to empathy to breathing exercises. Instead of taping a note to your bathroom mirror that reads something overly aspirational like “Every day I’m getting better in every way!” she suggests writing “Abandon hope.” I’m a self-improvement–obsessed American millennial—abandoning hope is hard for me to even begin to grasp.
To try to live firmly in the now, one can practice gratitude, and that’s one way I’m doing okay. I am daily grateful for my affordable apartment in Brooklyn next to a beautiful park; my healthy cat companion; my professional success; my wealth of family and friends. When my ex-boyfriend Mark* and I were together, I often told him how thankful I was, and internally I bursted with appreciation. I’d already been through so much disappointment and heartbreak before him; part of me understood that some day, this deep well of joy we shared would likely run dry. I sank my nails in deeper.
Over Thanksgiving weekend in 2017, Mark and I walked along the Hudson River where the sun was setting, tangerine and lilac. I took his hands, kissed him, and told him I loved him for the first time. I will never forget how extraordinarily alive I felt; I stood on earth while my soul soared through undiscovered galaxies abundant with warm, neon rings of light. If I’m lucky, I’ll feel that radiant a few more times in my life. I’m lucky I felt it once.
That happy moment passed. Many others did too. But thinking of them brings me clarity. Every hellish moment, feeling and unrelenting low will also pass. It’s all fallen apart and it’s already on its way to coming together again. One day, I will say “I love you” to someone new; the sun’s beams will burst from my fingers, all the world’s dogs will howl at the moon in unison, and my smile will blind anyone in sight. That gives me hope.
I couldn’t bring myself to write “Abandon hope” on a Post-it. Instead, on my desk hang two notes; one reads “This too shall pass,” the other, “Show up for me.”
*Name has been changed to protect the sort-of innocent.
#CruelSummerBookClub reading list
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön
Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment. We feel that someone else knows what’s going on, but that there’s something missing in us, and therefore something is lacking in our world.
Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look. That’s the compassionate thing to do. That’s the brave thing to do. We could smell that piece of shit. We could feel it; what is its texture, color, and shape?
-Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart
I’m also reading
I gained 20 pounds before my wedding and it was still perfect by Caroline Moss in Glamour
bad summer in Helena Fitzgerald’s newsletter, Griefbacon
On getting rejected a lot (and liking it) by Blair Braverman in Outside
Where I’ve laid my head by Jami Attenberg in The Rumpus
How a journalist discovered and reunited identical twins by Barbara Demick in The Los Angeles Times
Nicolas Cage being extremely Nicolas Cage by David Marchese for The New York Times Magazine
Support I got that you might need to hear
Questionable self-care advice
Minerva has taken to napping on our shoe rack in the entryway and it MELTS me every time I come home and see her nestled there. What a gal.
This cheered me up
Anthem of the week
I noticed something huge this week: I can listen to music again. For two months, pretty much anything with a melody (people sure do sing about love a lot, huh?) was too much for me to bear. Then a couple of Fridays ago, I took a long walk on the West Side by myself, listening to Bon Iver’s new album. I passed by people kayaking in the Hudson, and the volleyball courts of Hudson River Park, and watched suited commuters hurrying to get on the ferry to New Jersey as I took shelter under the lip of a building as an intense, eight-minute storm rolled in. The sun came out, and the drops continued to fall, illuminated. I stepped into them. I felt like myself. I was grateful.
My maternal grandfather, Charles (Chuck) Shackelford, is 86 years old and has seen many things come together and fall apart. He’s lost siblings, a son, his wife (my grandmother Betty), and most recently, his partner Donnie—a high school friend he reunited with after they both lost their spouses around the same time. I’ll share a conversation with him about enduring so much loss, and the wisdom only time can bring.
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Thanks for the shoutout from the curated iPhone notes newsletter:
My dear friend Kellie sent me a link to Cruel Summer Book Club, a new newsletter by a recently-dumped writer about “grief, loss and heartbreak, and how we get through it.” It’s a mix of personal heartbreak stories and heartbreak-related content—so, a more refined version of what I’m doing with my own newsletter this summer. You already know how hard I hit that subscribe button. We love perfectly timed content.
Being described as a “recently-dumped writer?” Devastating! And accurate.
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