“Everything flows and nothing stays,” said Heraclitus some 2,500 years ago, with those words and many thousands more that followed putting his stamp on the cosmic ledger as the “Philosopher of Flux.” He added a pleasing image by proclaiming we can never step into the same river twice, the waters displaced by that step already having worked their way downstream, so good luck finding those drops now.
Rivers may not always run deep, but Heraclitus most certainly did.
Bill noting the trajectory of their blooms’ fleeting life cycle by deadpanning: ‘And then it was over.’
“There really is no tomorrow, because when tomorrow comes, it’s today!” That was Mrs. Anderson, my kindly third grade teacher who seemed to my 8-year-old eyes to have been born in the age of Heraclitus, maybe even his wife, waxing philosophic with a mischievous smile on her face at the front of the class.
It sounded slightly absurd to me then, in the category of “Oh, big deal and so what?”
But I remembered it, did I, toyed with and turned it and its variants over, oh, thousands more times in my life, until this very day, nearly 60 years later, when it lingers still, cavorting with Heraclitus in a dance of words, he of the towering reputation, inspiration for Plato and countless other deep thinkers devoted to grappling with his musings ever since.
Mrs. Anderson, meanwhile, perhaps just needing to fill the two minutes till recess with some light banter for a roomful of restless children.
“Don’t cling” is the capsule message, Buddha having long before said the same as Heraclitus from the other side of the world, in another language, but as part of the same thinking species considering the human plight and concluding there were aspects of that thinking that require adjustment.
I have been entertaining some of these de-clinging thoughts recently in preparing to move from my home of 23 years, from my community of nearly 40.
Sorting through ancient t-shirts from long defunct runs, the memories of which seem steeped in the very stains of perspiration and sauce spatterings that have resisted all laundering efforts through the decades.
And books, oh the books, picked up amidst various bouts of inspiration and curiosity, fanaticism and hope (for the key! the answer! the final encompassing conclusion!), their very smell enticing and seductive in a way that no one ever dares dream of a Kindle.
Dust gatherers, yes, but also repositories of wisdom and ambition (including ambition for the time to read them all…).
Which of them expendable? is the question of the month, so far answered by eight full grocery bags schlepped to the library for donation, God-only-knows how many bags worth still tucked safely on my shelves, a goodly number of them surviving every move of the past half century, clinging still to their place with me, though I know all too well it is quite the reverse, me doing the clinging, and may Heraclitus forgive me that sin as I gaze at my vintage collection of Steinbeck, bequeathed to me by a friend now dead, some of them still unread, thinking: “Oh, you are soooo coming with me again, my friends…”
A bow, too, to this morning’s sunrise, lucky me to have snagged it as I could and then snapped some photos (one selection above). I caught it running from one angle to the next, because I have read a bit of Heraclitus and observed enough to know I had better hurry if I wanted to render it in pixels in all its passing glory.
And to the horticulturist down the road, pedestrian name of Bill but sounding positively Heraclitian in offering a lecture tour of the splendid public garden he helped found decades ago, discussing every yoga practitioner’s favorite plant, the lotus, along with “prunus mume” and Malus sieboldii…their cultivation and care, the great boundless beauty they offer all who would gather ’round in admiration, Bill noting the trajectory of their blooms’ fleeting life cycle by deadpanning: “And then it was over.”
As it certainly always is for the blooming buds of spring trees, eliciting our gasps as we turn a corner and behold their startling intensity, bodacious to extremes, and then mere days later, plain green leaves, modest and mute, settled down to their own quotidian, punching the clock of a tree’s workaday world. (Until autumn, that is…)
Everything flows, nothing stays, there is no tomorrow, every now, too, passing, passing into “and then it was over,” becoming mere history, memory, though one could argue that placing “mere” in front of either “history” or “memory” is an error as egregious as thinking one can hold onto anything, ever, in this ever perishing world.
Yes, history may be forgotten or ignored, and memory may fade or escape us altogether with the ravages of disease, consigning us to a hell of an eternal now, a point that gives pause.
Paradox there, the “now” being such a lauded goal among meditators and others trumpeting the power of presence. So: dreadful dark nature, mischievous and cruel, answers with dementia, mocking our quest for now by vanquishing every moment that’s not, all our yesterdays and the people in our world today gone anew with each sinking of the sun.
Begetting the question: Who are we without memory, the things fluxed and flowed down the river of time?
As I write these words at a table in a public park, the sounds of a bamboo flute waft through the air, a man settled in behind me projecting a song peaceful and serene, as lovely in its way as the blooms of my neighborhood cherry trees, and even more short-lived. (This one sentence later, he has already moved on…)
But oh, the memory it will form, the image that will linger, giving a kind of lie to the claim, “And then it was over…”
Oh no it’s not.
Capturing the spirit here, I think…
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Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.
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Heraclitus sculpture photo in the public domain, other photos by Andrew Hidas https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewhidas/
Wonderful photos, music and writing as usual, Andrew. I also cling to books, homes (I cried when we moved from our last house even though we moved a few blocks away) and precious memories. It’s foolish, it’s futile and it’s thoroughly human. What can we do but try to enjoy the ride? The beauty you bring to us regularly in your blog is sweet redemption. Thanks!
When my father passed away three years ago, my brothers and I had to sift through his “library” of more than 7000 books and find some way to retain the memories those bounded words elicited without feeling too guilty about our reluctant but necessary purge. We tried to keep the most meaningful in the family, but we still had a difficult time sorting the keepers from the forsaken. Weeding is a pain in the ass. We did, however, preserve all the art my parents created; we couldn’t separate ourselves from the oils, watercolors, linoleum prints, monotypes, sculptures, and sketch books. My third bedroom closet is like an art museum’s basement. They are like the aroma of Proust’s Madeleine cakes as described in his “Remembrance of Things Past.”
Oh Andrew, this is stunning. I was right with every word. It is exactly as I pictured your time these weeks as you prepare to move to your next step.
How lovely that you have a bright future. Some people sort and toss as they are ending their life . Your sort and toss has so much life ahead!
Hope to talk with you soon
Thanks Mary! Looks like you were writing this at the same time I was writing my response to Al and Robert below, and the irony is I was thinking of you as I wrote the lines about losing everything in a fire. How about that! Your “sort” was of a much more anguished type, that is for sure, yet here you are, buoyant as ever…
Thanks for the reminder, too, of what my own sort-and-toss (love that phrase) is about at this stage of life. Helps steady the sometimes wobbly, “Yo, what am I doing?” moments in steering this ship!
Al, more and more I am saying “Bosh!” to the anti-materialist meme, as if the things in our lives—homes, books, backyard gardens, a favorite old sweater—don’t really matter and aren’t a source of profound joy. Too much binary thinking in this world, methinks: Yeah, I know it’s only “stuff” and if it all burned up today I would move on with my life and treasure my relationships, etc. But that doesn’t mean stuff is “bad” or without value and not worth crying over! Thanks for sharing that little tidbit; it gives me solace.
Robert, oh my: the ultimate “sorting” is to go through a beloved’s possessions and deal with all the decision-making it involves. Poignant, powerful, and requiring, as you say in that lovely line, a “reluctant but necessary purge.” Thanks for enhancing my morning.
Really enjoyed reading this Andy! Loved your 3rd grade teacher quote to live in the moment, but so thankful for memories of the past that make us all who we are today.
Well there you go, Lisa! As if one is more significant and vital to our identity and happiness than the other. As I suggested to Al above: “Bosh on the binaries!” (My new mantra… ) :-)
Joni Mitchell did her own version of “Bosh on the Binaries” – “Both Sides Now.” Still a classic. Anyway, I so feel ya when you talk about getting rid of books (or not). I still have not been able to part with all my German teacher texts and workbooks and lesson plans. Well, I might NEED THEM!!! I taught German until 1987. 32 years ago!! And then changed careers. But STILL I have all my old little German literature titles, a gazillion little yellow paperbacks, German classics. They smell of basement now but I still love them. I am not bad at purging many things…. but there are some things..I could go on.
I love your photos in this blog.
May you thrive as you throw the whole deck of cards in the air, and see which ones you like and where they come down!
Jeanette, I still have a million (OK, maybe “half”-million) portfolio pieces of brochures, annual reports & flyers, old magazines I edited, columns I wrote, columns SOMEONE ELSE wrote but which I liked a lot, notes for a book that got a third written if even that, & more…sooo much more. Such a nearly universal battle that is, fighting the “But I might NEED it someday!” blues. So I feel your pain, my dear, as I note my college Spanish textbook on a bottom shelf here, hmmm…
We left our home of 26 years nearly six years ago and were wrought with angst over what to discard and what to store as we headed out on what became a 6 year traverse of house-sitting and traveling. We recently recouped belongings from our storage space and have treasured growing re-acquainted with our stuff, including photos, cherished birthday cards, mom and dad day cards from our child (now a 29 year old grown-up professional) and sundry items that have sparked nearly all positive and warm memories of our lives. One might think that after six years tucked away in a storage area, the “stuff” would have proven unworthy of possession; but we have found this not to be the case. Oh, sure, there are clothes that should have gone as well as other meaningless incidentals that we could not part with then for God-only-knows-why. Now settled into a home with “our stuff” (furniture and all) is proving to be a renewal for me. The familiarity and sense of place with my things (many books included) have grounded me and provided energy for whatever comes next once on rounds out decade #6.
On another front regarding memories and past. As we approach our 50th High School reunion I am greatly enjoying the banter on Facebook and an email thread among close pals from those days gone by. It is a reminder that I am so much more than the person known by my professional colleagues (an identity that I am embarrassed to admit I clung to mightily and was not real graceful in letting go when The Board unceremoniously sent me packing). The HS photos, the memory shares, and recalling those days has me feeling more whole than I have long felt. Life, if we are fortunate, is a long, hard pull and, in all, it embraces a fullness and richness that any of its single segments, taken alone, cannot fully capture.
Eloquent and most interesting, Jay, thanks for taking the time on this. One doesn’t often hear about “stuff” being reclaimed after such a long hiatus, so it is revelatory to hear that you have warmed right back to a good part of it, it helping you recover and reconnect with treasured parts of your past instead of you looking at it cross-eyed and decrying the folly of clinging to it unrewardingly. Makes me wonder whether the tendency to either hold onto or jettison the things of one’s past is as much a matter of personality as anything else, some people oriented more toward revering old items and keepsakes, others more out with the old, in with the new. Lots of food for thought here—and food for fun with all those 50th reunion doings!
Jay, your post was moving…and laden with truth & universality. Our more than half-century friendships seem to have even more meaning today than ever before. Perhaps it’s our brushes with mortality (at least for me) which has made these “reunions” so rewarding.
Our sum experiences, past, present and future, always bring to mind the final sentences of “the Great Gatsby.”
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Thank you my dear friends Andrew and Robert for your responses to my post. I’ve been pondering Drew’s post and mine over the past day and have decided to add to it. My mother-in-law passed away a few years ago after a long struggle with her health in her early eighties. She was the mother of 10, grandmother of 36 and great grandmother of 5. At her memorial one of her grandsons spoke lovingly of the grandma he had known and loved for his 15 years of life. My wife Dawn, the eldest of the 10 “kids” was asked to speak on behalf of the “original” 10. Dawn chose to talk about her mom, Peg, as the woman she knew as mom growing up. She effectively added stories about Peg passed down to her from Peg’s life pre-motherhood. She had been one of the true “Rosey the Riveters’ from Detroit, driving a truck with war supply materials from Detroit auto factories to Chicago for shipment in the WWIi effort. Dawn poignantly filled in the picture of a life fully lived, and of a person that was mom, grandma, and much, much more.It is so easy to forget as we look at elders that they were not always old, with hearing, balance, and memory issues. John Prine wrote/sang a wonderful piece some years ago about saying “hello in there.” “In there,” for all of us, resides so much more than what is seen and identified in the moment. After losing my professional identity, to which I desperately clung for far too long after leaving, I read about the concept of “re-potting” oneself and growing anew. With respect to this blog thread I have learned in recent days that an important element of my re-potting is a reclamation of my past and of my longtime pals such as Robert and Andrew. Reconnecting with them and others has made my re-potting soil all the more rich and my anticipation of the coming years filled with energy and light. Many thanks, my brothers. Closing here with two related remarks from a friend: 1. The great ones adjust and; 2. Life is great if you just don’t weaken
WOW – supremely poignant post and follow up comments, connections, reflections – a joy to read… Loved the Zen of your 4th grade teacher, am sure that would tickle her (or her posse) to read this blog. The pithy topic of life transitions, which tend to become more meaningful and complex as we oldsters increasingly see the hour-glass of our time on this rock waning, is indeed one we can all relate to. Just the other day our son Max (the most attached to “stuff” from the past in our clan) was going through some of my Dad’s stuff picking up an old watch (we were going to have it repaired but…) which opened up a conversation about change, not many millennials wear watches, why he wanted to repair Grandpas etc. Imbuing objects with meaning is so quintessentially human. Reminds me of this great series/book by the British Museum, “The History of the World in 100 Objects”
https://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/a_history_of_the_world.aspx – It is also one of the ways we are all so different, and of course, it can go way over the edge into hoarding and such… just one of the windows into the crazy-quilt of our species. While I love looking at family pics from past events, trips etc and digging through stuff the kids made in school we’ve not had the will to jettison, I find myself not as attached to my stuff as I begin my 7th decade. The last battle I had was 30 yrs. ago moving up to Sonoma County from SoCal and parting with over 3,000 albums (mostly scratched, beer stained etc), now in the age of Spotify/YouTube I find contemplating letting go of a few hundred CDs does not evoke near the pathos of my dear vinyl… not sure why. Anyway, BIG thanks to you and your readers.