“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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Deep appreciation to the photographers! Unless otherwise stated, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing.
Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.
Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Heraclitus sculpture photo in the public domain, other photos by Andrew Hidas https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewhidas/