November came and went and I had eight people at the house to celebrate the American tradition of Thanksgiving. An expat friend and I had spent two days in the kitchen, the wine and conversation flowed freely, and it was a joyful, shining evening.
Before we dug into the abundance of smells, flavors and colors on the table, I invited each guest to reflect on what he or she felt thankful for. It was a heartwarming – sometimes funny, sometimes teary – circle of sharing. I found myself feeling especially grateful for these transient moments of warmth and friendship.
I took a photo to hold on to the memory of the beautiful evening. It’s my way of holding on to things. I photograph sunrises, rainbows and sunsets, hoping to capture their evanescent beauty for long after they fade.
Many people struggle with transience. How difficult it is to love something wholeheartedly and, at the same time, know it will come to an end! But isn’t this what being alive is all about? Our lives are transient. Even those who believe in reincarnation or some other form of existence after death have to concede that this life, this particular form of consciousness in this physical body, will end sooner or later.
Do you remember a moment in childhood that was so happy you wished it would last forever? As we grow older, we tend to develop strategies to protect ourselves from the pain of knowing that all things end. Some people cling to things and pretend they haven’t changed, even when they have. Others deny their mortality and look for ways to become immortal: either by literally prolonging their youthfulness or by leaving a legacy that everyone will remember them by. Still others protect themselves by avoiding all attachments, out of fear they will suffer the pain of it ending.
How is it possible to be genuinely grateful for the moments of true love and beauty in our lives if we are so afraid they will end?
The Japanese have a term, mono no aware, that specifically addresses the poignancy of life’s transience. It is the emotion one feels at the sight of falling cherry blossom petals. It is similar to the Portuguese saudade, which has been described as the love that remains after someone has gone.
It is this awareness: that everything eventually fades, changes, or disappears, that heightens the beauty of the moment. For this I feel intensely grateful.