On The Impermanence Of This Life

📷: Chungkuk Bae

Today I am struck by the sounds—my neighbor coughing, the quiet melody of a song played in the courtyard, an airplane overhead, the rustling of leaves through the trees. In moments like this, where I am powerless to the universe, I can’t help but take note of all the small things I so often overlook.

It’s unfortunate, really, that we don’t notice the way the earth breathes and moves until we’re faced with the realization that one day, even we won’t do those things.

Oh how temporary this all is.

Today, in a hospital across the world, a family friend is fighting for each breath. She is surrounded by incredible coworkers, family and friends. She has been covered with prayer from many different countries. She has been given so much hope and love. And still, she fights.

And in moments like this, I try to wrap my head around God’s purpose, His plan. I know that death and pain are not His will. And yet, I struggle with the ‘why?’ I struggle with the ‘why now?’ I struggle with the ‘why so soon, so sudden?’ I struggle with the purpose—why would he take a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend? Why would he leave a son to graduate without his mom’s loving embrace? Why would he allow a father with a heart condition to have to try to survive on his own?

God doesn’t leave us. I know that. I know He doesn’t abandon us. I know that His will is not to watch us be broken and alone. I know He stands beside us while we fight the evil of this world, and then follows us through, whatever outcome.

But why is pain so real, so present?

I don’t know. I don’t know. And maybe that’s all there is to understand about these sort of situations—that there is no answer. All we can do is trust that God is here, that He cares, that He’s listening, that He loves.

Today, I sit and simply exist. I try to focus on one thing, keeping my mind centered, my feet grounded. I try to find the words to comfort my mother, who, two thousand miles away is still struggling to wrap her head around the fact that she just talked to her friend a few days ago, and now there’s only silence on the other end of the phone. I keep thinking of the family members, sitting around their loved one’s hospital bed, searching desperately for a sign, a breath, a flicker of her eyelid. I close my eyes and send prayers up into the clouds, every cell desperate for some sort of answer.

In moments like this, I am always struck by the continuance of the world. When something tragic happens, we’re caught in the juxtaposition between our personal worlds standing still, and everyone and everything else moving on as if nothing happened at all.

How wild to be reminded of our smallness—that among millions of humans, we are so tiny.

And yet, the time we have on this earth can drastically impact everyone and everything we touch.

I do not know this woman well, and yet, I do. I know her in the way she came alive in my mother’s stories—their dancing across the streets in Europe, eating fish and throwing greasy chips to the seagulls, losing track of time in dingy bars, sipping on drinks that only cost a nickel apiece, taking turns buying rounds. I know her in the laughter that mirrors my mother’s, in a crowded corner of a restaurant in Chicago where I saw of the both of them together for the first time. I know her in the larger-than-life way she has appeared throughout my childhood as the voice of reason, support, and love for the woman who made me. I know her in how she’s been someone, even when I was young, that I could trust and admire.

And I know her now, as one of the strongest women in my life.

It’s beautiful to see how our lives can change in moments of tragedy. If there is a light in all the darkness, it’s the way strangers bond together, donate money, show up in ways they never have before. It’s in the way people reach out to one another, lean, pray, believe.

It’s in the way we realize what an impact we each have on the world around us—we love, give, care, and change lives.

And I wonder if that’s the ‘answer’ in all of this—not making sense of the whys, or what to do next, but to know that God puts people in our lives for incredible reasons and in incredible ways. That He brings beauty into the darkness, and hope where there is none. That He uses ordinary people to bless the world, and that each of us has a unique purpose that becomes abundantly clear in time.

There is no answer. Only the wind shifting through the palm trees, the clicking of heels on pavement, the cars rushing by on the street outside my apartment building. Only the fleeting moments we can grab ahold of before they’re gone. Only the love we share. Only the way we can honor that person in the time they have left and after they leave—forever important, valuable, beautiful, and alive—even when they’re no longer on this earth.

I listen to the sounds of life outside my doorstep. I listen and say nothing, think nothing. Just pray. Just hold on. Just trust that God is with and within us. Just believe that He will bring us—each and every one of us—through.