On temporality and what it means for our permanence
About a year ago, I came across the expression “everything is temporary.”
It came to me in a time of need. My life was changing in frustrating ways, and I could feel the anxiety that came with the inability to control my future. I wanted to fix a lot of situations that were out of my reach, but the reminder that the bad times would pass was enough to keep me going — to keep me from losing to the frustration.
To think that all of our emotions — pain, happiness, anger, fear, surprise, disgust — will eventually disintegrate into nothing is a peaceful, yet unsettling thought. During the rough patches, the thought gave me the hope that not everything can be bad all the time. But during moments of happiness or inspiration, it made me wonder how to make that moment stick. How do we preserve what we want to be permanent? Is it possible for anything to be permanent?
Our bodies and minds are constantly changing. There is no denying it: Once we are born, we age and eventually, we die. We gain and lose memories without even realizing it, and nothing in our lives is ever guaranteed. We all live in a state of temporality and the uniqueness of our experiences is what shapes each of our lives into completely different narratives. And it’s in the moments when we stop and attempt to find permanence — or preserve a state of being, emotion or feeling — that we create something new.
For me, this preservation is the tangibility of words on a page. Or the thought behind the lyrics of a song. Or the anticipation of the last scene of a movie. Reading, writing, listening to music, watching movies — they are all a way of capturing a fleeting feeling, idea or moment. They are all a means of coming to terms with our temporality and fighting back against it, finding a way to cement our existence. Art allows us to capture temporality and turn it into something permanent, or at least semi-permanent.
Art gives others the chance to remember and pass along such preservation. In sharing art, we collectively reduce our temporality. Doing so not only reduces our temporality, but it directly addresses the dilemma inherent in humanity: We are limited. In facing this issue and seeing how others deal with it, we learn from each other. We gain the ability to understand what others have experienced and found to be so powerful that they needed to save it.
We do not have to preserve everything either. I try to forget embarrassing things I have said or done. I avoid watching the end of “Titanic” because I know it makes me upset. I would rather imagine Jack and Rose happily getting married and growing old together or even just Jack not turning into a popsicle and dying. Yet I am still grateful for these moments, because they have taught me how to enjoy the good times. Just because I don’t always want to think about the sadness doesn’t mean that I’m not better for having experienced it.
Time and time again, I return to this saying in moments of frustration, and it washes away all of my stress. But I have also realized that we must cherish and revel in each moment that is temporary because we will never get that moment back. Exhilarating or melancholy, it is moments like these that remind us that we are alive. It is moments like these that remind us that each second is precious and valuable. In preserving these points in time through art, we share what makes us human. If we choose to capture the temporality of our lives; we gain the chance to learn about ourselves and share our thoughts with others.
Perhaps the only permanent thing in our lives is the concept that nothing is permanent. Even if this is true, our attempts to create permanence are what set us apart. They tell us that there was something meaningful enough in our lives that we wanted to remember it. They tell us that to have something temporary is better than to have nothing at all.