“What is so rare as a day in June?” The famous line from Lowell’s poem circulates through my mind often in this month as we are graced by mild temperatures, clear skies, and everything is green, flowering, and abundant. Of the four seasons, spring and autumn seem to have most inspired words reflecting on beauty, as those are the seasons when nature gifts us with overflowing beauty on all sides.Yet spring and autumn are the shortest of seasons, the seasons that may be likely to elicit complaining when they arrive late or end early (I have yet to hear someone rejoice about winter coming too soon, and by August complaints about a long, hot summer are common). By calendar days spring and autumn may be no shorter than the other seasons, but by our experience and our desire to savor them they feel shorter.
When some part of our lives is painful, we naturally want it to end; when some part of our lives is wonderful, we naturally want it to keep going, going without end. That something might be wonderful and be brief is not the pattern we usually hope for. We link what lasts with what is desired, so that abiding and pleasure go hand in hand. If something wonderful ends, as everything does in time, we mourn or resent its ending, as though the pleasure should have continued, as though the loss of the wonderful experience takes away from its pleasure. Images of the afterlife in many spiritual traditions suggest that eternity and joy, absence of pain, delight, love, all the positive dimensions of human experience, come together everlastingly when we die, and that our present earthly life, where such positive experiences often seem unfairly abbreviated, will not be the way things happen forever.
Yet sometimes the very transience of an experience is part of what makes it special. Like spring and autumn, when beauty is all around us, we may be more attentive as a result of knowing the experience will not last. Whenever we realize that an end is in sight–with a wonderful trip, a close relationship, a project we have enjoyed, a lifestyle that has been right for us–we tend to be much more present, to savor each moment, knowing that soon what we cherish will be over and gone. So while we may long for permanence, especially where the people and circumstances and experiences we love are concerned, we may discover that the very lack of permanence is part of what makes what we love matter to us.
As we move through spring into summer these next few days, as we watch all aspects of our lives change moment by moment, may we learn to celebrate the temporary rather than strive to thwart it, to hang on tighter to what is passing. Perhaps we can see that much of the joy and pleasure we experience comes precisely because nothing lasts, because the very transience of everything and everyone, including ourselves, is what makes this life matter.