Dani Shapiro
January 8, 2009

On Impermanence

We lost power for about an hour and a half last night. We had just finished dinner and I was in the middle of one of those ridiculous parental power struggles with Jacob, who was insisting that the brand of ice cream sandwiches we had in the freezer wasn’t the “right kind”. I was in the middle (I swear this is true) of saying something about starving children in Africa. Michael was smirking at me. Then–just like that–all went dark and silent. The hum of the freezer, the ticking of the clocks, the low level constant noise that we live with, without ever noticing. We lit candles, started a fire in the fireplace, found flashlights. As power outages go, it was perfect. It lasted exactly the right amount of time. Long enough to feel like an adventure, but brief enough to avoid becoming a huge problem.

An ice storm had been hitting us all day, the trees, bushes, windowsills encased and glittering. This morning, when we woke up, the world outside our windows shone silvery in the sunlight. Our post-ice-storm world has a bleak, bittersweet kind of beauty. It’s hard to take it in and enjoy it, knowing how much damage will be wrought, how many branches will crack, how many trees will fall.

I keep a book of Buddhist wisdom open on our kitchen table, and we turn a page each morning. The entry for today–a piece of wisdom from Shabkar–is this:

“Like the birds that gather in the treetops at night
And scatter in all directions at the coming of dawn,
Phenomena are impermanent.”

The awareness of this impermanence–in myself, in the world around me–can, at its best, force me into the present moment. The ice on the trees. The sun streaming in. The sound of a snow plow in the distance. My manuscript waiting for me to enter it, this morning. The boy back at school. The husband cozy in his office. The dogs sleeping. This, right now, is all there is.