Maybe To Truly Live You Must Remember Your Impermanence

woman looking out at mountains from car
📷: Holly Mandarich

I still remember the bright glimmer of the Lake Tahoe water reflected back with a shine in the whites of our eyes. We were sharing the same extra-large towel, two bodies only having met a few hours earlier, connected under that warm summer sun. This moment I remember so vividly—his long hair tossed over broad, tanned shoulders; the light warming our faces; the sound of his laugh. It was love, yes, but in the strangest way. It wasn’t that I wanted to lean in and kiss him, to draw his body closer to mine. It’s that I wanted to hold his heart in my hands, lay there and just listen to the sound of his voice.

I loved who he was as a person, I loved his soul.

He had turned to me, pouring stories of his past. I could tell by the way his eyes looked away over the water that he was heartbroken—he didn’t have to say her name for me to know.

He was dying—epilepsy—every seizure taking his strength, but not his heart.

I watched the way his mouth moved, comforted by the sound. And in that moment, I did not have words. I just listened. Realizing that he, even with his numbered days, knew far more about living than I did.

***

I think of him often, think of the girl he loved and wonder what happened to her or if she still loves him. I think about all the items on his list that he was crossing off, one by one. I think of his drinking and how he rationalized, with every sip, that there was no use in prolonging the inevitable, yet did so in a way that made you laugh alongside him. Cheers, you sweet stubborn man.

I think of his smile, and how in meeting him for the first time I already knew I cared about him, would care about him from that moment forward in the unexplainable way we connect to the strangers in our lives.

He understood something that I’m still trying to make sense of—when we learn how to die, we learn how to live.

When we close our eyes and live in the moment, when we laugh, lay in the sun, take sips of ice cold beer, lean into the people around us, share our truth, hold hands, smile, connect, breathe, celebrate, appreciate—we see the beauty around us instead of living in fruitless pursuit of perfection.

When we understand that our time on this earth is not for certain, that in any moment something could happen to change or end our path, we start to live with purpose, with passion.

When we remind ourselves that we are fleeting, we grasp and grab all that we can. We step forward without fear. We do the things we were so afraid to do for so long. We trust in the circumstances, and let ourselves be led.

When we remind ourselves of our impermanence, we live with tenacity.

We live as if we have numbered days, as if we have a determined diagnosis, as if we must squeeze every drop from this life because in all reality, this is the truth we’re all living.

There is no guarantee of tomorrow, of the future, of forever, or anything other than right here, right now. So maybe it’s not about reading all the self-help books, stressing over where our lives fit and compare. Maybe it’s not about trying to be the best, or do more than the person next to us. Maybe it’s not about searching for love, for answers, for meaning, but creating that meaning in every step.

Perhaps life is simply accepting that you are not here for long, so you must live.

You must acknowledge your impermanence, and then throw your head back and laugh, grab someone by the arm and dance, kiss, feel, hope, and remember all that you have.

In the end all that remains will be the memories—sun kissed skin, sparkling water, bodies next to one another, laughter bubbling up from chests and floating like fireflies into the sky.