Recently I read one of those posts that periodically make their way around social media, asking you to cite your favorite song, or TV show, or book. This one asked for a favorite quote.
Now, one of the things I like best about reading is the way you can suddenly come upon a sentence that makes you pause and say, “This. I feel exactly like this.” The books I own are rife with highlights, underlines, notes in the margins, and circled page numbers indicating I found a treasure there. So, I was ready to jump in. But I don’t actually have one favorite quotation. Instead, I keep a collection of them on my laptop in a folder marked “I love this.”
When I looked through the file, I came across one I hadn’t thought about in a long time. It’s from The French Lieutenant’s Woman. A character in the story is on a walk on a beautiful summer day. His senses are awakened by the sight and scent of a colorful profusion of flowers, the melodious songs of birds, the blue sky above, and by sunlight playing on the water in the distance. He feels a thrill at the lovely moment, but at the same time he also feels a wave of melancholy. The author describes the sensation this way:
“His statement to himself should have been ‘I possess this now, therefore I am happy,’ instead of what it so Victorianly was: ‘I cannot possess this forever, therefore I am sad.’ ”
And that is me in a nutshell. I have many happy moments, but that happiness is almost always tempered by the knowledge of, and the resistance to, the inevitable passing of the moment.
After our mother died of Alzheimer’s, I had a conversation with one of my sisters in which she asked me if I’d want to know in advance that I was going to fall prey to that terrible disease. I had to think about it for a minute, and I turned the question back on her. Without hesitation she said yes, if there were a test that could definitively determine that she was going to get Alzheimer’s, she’d take it in a heartbeat.
If the answer was yes, she would take all her money out of the bank, liquidate all her assets, and spend everything she had traveling and enjoying life before it was too late. I’d like to say that after a moment, I answered the same way because I admire the brave insouciance of that response. But I didn’t, because I’m pretty sure that news like that would not find me packing my bags, grabbing my passport, and heading for adventures unknown.
Instead, I fear, I would be too busy crushing the life out of any joyful experiences under the weight of my knowledge of what was to come. Sadly, I’m pretty much back in the meadow with the Victorian guy in the quote. I can’t be happy in the moment when I know the moment won’t last.
But at the same time, I accept—intellectually, anyway—that change is the only constant in life. It’s not a bad thing, in fact, it’s a necessary thing. That’s why, in adding my comment to the social media query, I chose a Chinese proverb from my file of favorite quotations.
“When the wind of change blows, some build walls, others build windmills.”