A long time ago, a very short story left such a deep impression on me that I posted it as a facebook note (strangely it would be only one of the nine random fb notes I have posted over a decade):
“You see this goblet?” asks Achaan Chaa, the Thai meditation master. “For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on the shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that the glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious.”
This story has somehow been hovering in the deep layers of my subconscious. I have been reading so much buddhist literature recently that the story surfaced into my consciousness again. I checked the date today and I was surprised that it was posted on 26 November 2009, almost exactly nine years ago to the date (it is quite uncanny that I am choosing to write about this today). It still surprises me that some threads of my life already had their roots a long time ago, getting almost forgotten with the mundane pursuits of life, only to resurface.
The glass is already broken. I am reminded of the movie Arrival (warning: spoilers ahead), where the protagonist was given the gift (curse?) of seeing time in a non-linear way by an alien race, and through that she knew her child would eventually die in her twenties but it arguably didn’t stop her from trying to live a full life with her daughter.
What would you rather choose? Would you choose the blissfulness of ignorance, bear the sudden terrible grief at the end and risk taking time for granted, or would you choose the painful baggage of having the awareness of knowing your child will die very soon and that makes you cherish every second of her life? Would some people avoid developing a bond with their child to avoid the pain of loss?
How does one live with the knowledge of knowing we are going to lose something we love very much, trying to love and cherish as hard as possible while racing against a countdown timer?
The truth is we are all racing against a countdown timer in some way or another. We can choose to be aware of it, and how aware we want to be.
I don’t think there is a right or wrong choice, it is a matter of preference and personality. It is like some people like saving up their money and spending it at the end, others like spending what they have at any given moment.
For me it wasn’t really a choice. I have been living with this hyper-awareness for as long as I can remember. Sometimes it feels like a disability and I envy people who can compartmentalise, other times it feels like a superpower that enables me to live a richer life. I often feel overwhelmed by sadness, especially I am getting to an age when the people around me are getting older and more fragile. Every interaction feels poignant because I don’t know when will be the last moment I get to be with someone while they are alive. Every goodbye feels loaded. I desperately try to hold on in vain by capturing photos of seemingly mundane moments…with the knowing that one day that there will be nothing I can do to have these mundane moments again.
This becomes more apparent with climate change. These days I try to appreciate my breaths of fresh air a lot more, not knowing how long it will last. I look at trees and flowers with refreshed awe. I don’t remember to do this every time, but it is arising more frequently in my consciousness: seeing everything not just in the current slice of time but interspersed with their potentialities.
If I could choose, what would I rather choose? I would like to think I would still choose to be hyper-aware. Sometimes it feels tiring to live this way, to experience every moment imbued with the sadness of eventual loss. Sometimes I wish I can retain some naive innocence. But if I were to look at things in the grand scheme, I would still rather know. We love cherry blossoms because we know they will fall.
It is this hyper-awareness that allows me to overcome my fear and insecurity, to pursue change instead of resisting what is inevitable. Most people become aware of their countdown timers near the end, I don’t know when is my end or when are all the ends I am afraid of, but in many ways I feel lucky that I am aware of the ticking as early as possible. If anything, I do wish to cultivate more equanimity towards the ends I am in fear of, that life begins and ends with no personal vendetta against us, that if I at the very least attempt to be aware of each passing moment I will be spared a little less regret with the time comes.
The grief though, I think I am beginning to accept, will be inevitable. Grief, is the consequence of having loved, and perhaps it is fair to have the magnitude of pain directly proportionate to the magnitude of love.
It is still a choice: whether to live life within safe boundaries, or to push its limits and risk its consequences. I have come to a point where I think both are valid.