A Moment to Stop

My mother used to say, with some regularity, “This too shall pass.” My siblings and I say it too. It’s a way of remembering the chaotic or frustrating times won’t last (rarely said during the good times although true then, too). This morning is the first I’ve had in over a week to sit quietly, stare out my window, and reconnect.

The willow has lost most of its leaves. A light breeze tickles the few remaining at the very top. Different birds from even two weeks ago flit through the yard. A squirrel dashes, busy. No sirens this morning. For the most part, it looks like a morning when nature also takes a break from the over-the-top energy of the past couple of weeks and rests. 

I thought, given my mother’s proclivity for memorized sayings from the Bible, that “this too shall pass” is a proverb from that same book. But here’s what reliable (mostly) Wikipedia says:

This too shall pass” … is a proverb indicating that all material conditions, positive or negative, are temporary. The phrase seems to have originated in the writings of the medieval Persian Sufi poets, and is often attached to a fable of a great king who is humbled by the simple words… Jewish folklore often describes Solomon as giving or receiving the phrase. The proverb and associated fable were popular in the first half of the 19th century, appearing in a collection of tales by the English poet Edward Fitzgerald and being employed in a speech by Abraham Lincoln before he became president.

So there you are. Not biblical at all. But useful none-the-less unless life becomes so over-the-top there’s no view of the light to passage.

In last night’s class, several of my students looked as though they’d been as blasted by the past two weeks as much any of the rest of us. One could barely keep his eyes open – he’d been out the week before and down sick; another is recovering from a car accident; another has a cold beginning; another missed class all together because of illness; another stayed home with her little sister while her mom was at the hospital with her brother’s appendix operation. This too shall pass.

It will, but in the meantime many are stressed beyond civility and peace of mind. It’s easier to say, “this too shall pass” when we don’t have a five-day-a-week stressful job and school and family. I have family, but they’re adults and self-sufficient; I have school, but that’s my work and I really like what I do. I expect there are many who read this and wish they had a morning at home to stare out the window.

I don’t have any easy answers. Life is pretty demanding these days, even with a lighter schedule. How do we manage the stress and frustration and plain old tiredness? Yes, this time will pass, eventually, but how to manage it in the meantime? I suppose if a king can be humbled by the words, they may also remind the rest of us to drop our shoulders from our ears.  

I’d appreciate any comments that offer good ideas to one and all.

In the meantime, I’ve added a couple of links to other sites asking the same questions.

Work / Life Balance? It doesn’t!

Misconceptions about work-related stress

16 thoughts on “A Moment to Stop

  1. Madison and Janet, thanks for your caring re: my brother’s death and your thoughts re: time to stop. Loss does bring new lessons and appreciations.

  2. Thanks for the topic, Janet.
    Sorry if this is too dramatic but my brother very suddenly and unexpectedly passed away a month ago and we are burying his cremains with Marine Honors tomorrow and, following, holding a Celebration of Life w/ all the family coming from 5 states. So the reminder “This too shall pass” is literal and quite poignant. I never knew there was so much for us, his sisters, to plan and deal with in the death of a brother. So yes, that has been taxing.
    I have a hammock on my back porch which relaxes and consoles me; crying is a good release to a point; and I consider it a practice of good self-care to make sure I get that quite time outdoors, taking in the green and the fall colors, or catch even a 5 minute nap.
    I write this from my son’s back deck in California overlooking the lemon and avocado trees–I am blessed. Those are my suggestions: find the time.

    1. What a great reminder, Gail. “find the time.” I think that’s the key to sanity, really. Find the time.
      One of the things I’ve realized is that I’ll die with a to-do list. But in the meantime, the deadlines just keep coming!
      My prayers for your family and for you.

      1. Gail, I’m sorry to hear of your brother’s passing. I think you’re right that making the time is extremely important.

        Janet, I think dying with a to-do list, might not be a bad idea. As long as the list reflects, in the majority, things that are meaningful and bring joy to your soul or somehow help to reach those things. My own worry is that I’m spending so much time just working to pay bills that aren’t meaningful (new car, gasoline to get to and from work, satellite tv, cell phones, etc.). I can do without all those things. But I’ve gotten myself trapped for the time being in it, and am working my way out. When my youngest is grown and flown from the nest, I think I can even go without the electricity, lol.

      2. Madison, I want to remind you that you do a great job of making the time whatever time you have. I’ve seen the photos you post. You take time to see. Recognizing that days are pretty ragged right now, for whatever reason, and that we do what we can with what we have, without regrets, may also be making the most of the time that we do have (and maybe by the time your youngest has flown, you’ll have a different view of electricity!! – another lol).
        I just watched a yellowed leaf take its last playful flight on a gust of wind, up and over the willow, to fall to the grass. You see, taking time to see, as you do, also brings joy.

  3. I’ve always thought like your mom did that “this too shall pass” was a consoling comment to reassure me that a bad thing wouldn’t last forever.

    By contrast, the poet Shelley’s Ozmandias was an Eastern (Egyptian?) king who couldn’t imagine an end to his splendid reign. The words are a curb to pride. Maybe the shift reflects the fact we’re overworked–while King Oz. simply let his slaves work.

    Edward Fitzgerald sculpted the jewel of fatalism when he turned Omar Khyam into English. Check it out!

    1. Ah, yes, Basia. Thanks for the reminder of Ozymandias – a favorite…”Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay/Of that collossal wreck, boundless and bare/The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

      Or as my nephew David said, well, life also “passes away.” And so it does. So we’ll live in the living even when it gets a little too much. And be thankful for it all.

  4. This a comment, which I like very much, from my nephew David Lutes:

    I am reminded that life itself goes into the “this too shall pass” category. That is why i got out of bed this morning, i have things to do before this passes. It is the very transitory nature of life that, in my opinion, makes it such a precious life. Because, hell yes, this too shall pass.

  5. “This too shall pass,” is inherently a reference to “today” or “now” or “the moment” and is the proverb’s assurance of hope. Hope is what allows us to see our way through adversity. The Old Testament reminds us, “Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.” (Prov 23.18) Whatever is happening at the moment to cause us to utter the words “this too shall pass,” we often neglect to recognize even the smallest joy that might be shining in the background of our misery or misfortune. Even a small joy in a day of frustration or despair maintains hope. A friend of mine recently reminded me of the lyric from Randy Sparks song, “Today”

    … “a million tomorrows shall all pass away…Ere I forget all the joys that are mine today.”

    Even in despair there is hope. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor 4.8)

    1. Thanks, Terry. And thanks for the reminder of “a million tomorrows shall all pass away…’ I always liked that verse.

      I think, in different words, that’s what my nephew David meant when he wrote “I am reminded too that life goes into the “this too shall pass” category.”

      I’ve really appreciated the wisdom from everyone who’s responded.

  6. Janet, I have been feeling the stress of too much work and too little life…and the notion of it eventually passing is only slightly palliative at the moment.

    I think, in my case, I need to work harder toward liberation from the rat race and toward ensuring there indeed will be a point in my life where I can slow down to savor and smell the roses.

    It seems pointless to work incessantly only to pay bills and get up again the next day to do the same thing over and over if there’s no time to enjoy the passage of life in the meantime.

    So I think as I manage to simplify my life even further, perhaps I can work less and live more.

  7. When the Weavers made their last performance at Carnegie Hall in 1980, Lee Hays shared a few words of wit with the audience and by extension all of us. In reference to the presidency of Ronald Reagan he quipped, “This too shall pass” in reference to his being blacklisted by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee in the early 1950s.

    Reagan’s presidency did pass but Lee could not foresee that it was the tip of the iceberg we came to know as the radical religious right which in turn elected George W. Bush. The Bush presidency also passed but not its effects which have infected America with a heavy dose of Fascism with the Tea Party Express being the latest example.

    However, ever the optimist, Lee would still say, “This too shall pass.” Yet, I am not so sure and the prediction of a reactionary Republican takeover as the consequence of the upcoming election leaves me without hope for America’s future.

    However, I still find solace in Lee’s words this time in a poem he wrote shortly before his death:

    In Dead Earnest

    If I should die before I wake,
    All my bone and sinew take:
    Put them in the compost pile
    To decompose a little while.
    Sun, rain, and worms will have their way,
    Reducing me to common clay.
    All that I am will feed the trees
    And little fishes in the seas.
    When corn and radishes you munch,
    You may be having me for lunch.
    Then excrete me with a grin,
    Chortling, “There goes Lee again!”
    Twill be my happiest destiny
    To die and live eternally.

    And yes, Lee’s ashes were buried in his compost pile.

  8. I think I may have mentioned before that my grandmother’s admonition carried more ammunition (pardon the pun), as she recited, “Like peach pits, this too shall pass.”
    My only defense to stress then has come to mean I’d better drink plenty of water if I’m to pass a peach pit!
    And for many of us, water holds a greater comfort as we indulge in a long soak, take a swim, sit beside a fountain, wash our hands of a situation (literally and figuratively) and even treat ourselves to long, cool drink of pure, life-giving water.
    It couldn’t hurt!

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