Impermanence: Can You Live Like You are Always About to Leave the Party?

Nothing like the open road to wake you up to what you are leaving behind.

The easiest way to see what you have is to leave it behind.

At a family party a few weeks ago, my dad said something rather profound. We had just told the family that we had to leave, and although the party had been rather quiet for the last few hours, people began talking more energetically once we had declared our looming departure.

“You see that, Jen? As soon as they know they are leaving, everyone just wants to talk, talk, talk.” We watched the group and pondered this.

Situations that we are in shift the focus of our reality-lens. For me, leaving a place is always a sure-fire way to get me to see all the little things I’ve been missing. The way my dad smiles at me. The feeling of pulling into my driveway. The sound of the drip in the kitchen sink. These things are sometimes only brought to my attention when I know that I am not going to be around them again for a long, long time.

The prospect of moving to Austin, Texas is thrilling to me in many ways. I am going to be in a community of people who are interesting. I am going to be right near the Green Belt, where my dog can be happy and I can be around trees. I am going to keep my article-writing job and be able to work from amazing little coffee shops that are new and interesting.

And yet, anxiety flows all through my veins. I am going to be leaving behind my family, who I have certainly left behind before; but now I’m doing it again. I will leave behind the comfort of a town I am familiar with. I will be going to a city that I have never lived, in a place I have never been, around people I do not yet know. These things are crazy.

And yet, I can perceive none of them. I can only perceive where I am, this house, this forest, this town. The details appear as if they are brand new. Suddenly the exact shape of the yard is brought to my attention. The sound of the distant traffic at night is more potent, the stars are more vivid. Why is this? Is my anxiety causing an increased level of attention? Is my sympathetic nervous system on high-alert and causing me to perceive each detail?

Or am I merely aware of what is always true but is easily ignored; that is, the fact that everything is impermanent.

We never know who we are going to see each day. The friends and loved ones we know can always leave, in expected or unexpected ways. Our house could burn down, our town could get demolished in a storm, our continent could be swallowed by a black hole. These things can always happen, everything is always temporary…

So why is it such a damn shock when it becomes utterly apparent that this is the case?

Now, I am in Virginia. I wrote this post a few weeks ago as I was getting ready to leave. The whole thing stands true. Leaving was ridiculously hard. Suddenly the love and comfort I feel at my childhood home became utterly apparent to me, all at once, like a ton of bricks.

We all go through things like this, and we may think to ourselves, gee golly wiz, why don’t I just make an intention to feel this way, all the time? Stay aware of the impermanence, talk as if I’m about to leave the party, love as if I might never see someone again?

Is it possible? I don’t know. I wish it was.

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