The Hope of Impermanence

There’s a smell in the countryside of western Pennsylvania that I’ve never smelled anywhere else (and it’s not the smell of fracking…yet). It’s the smell of hardwoods and evergreens, lichens and fungus, and leaves rotting on the forest floor. On summer mornings, whether I’m taking a walk or riding on the back of the Irishman’s Harley, I want to continually inhale as it blows through my hair and bathes my skin in its cool familiarity.

That smell is as grounding as a cleansing breath in meditation. It reminds me that home exists inside myself and that it’s possible – and preferable – to be comforted with something as simple as a smell.
Strangely enough, I am also comforted by the truth of impermanence, the Buddhist teaching that – put simply – everything organic and emotional will change, decay, and die. Understanding that truth and, more importantly, reminding myself of it (I have a really bad memory sometimes), I am better able to accept and live within painful body states and emotions.
This understanding didn’t come easy. For most of my life, I’ve clung to the hope of permanence and rebelled against change I didn’t create or welcome. I’ve moved so many times in almost 50 years that when I moved into the duplex I live in now, I promised myself I’d never plant another perennial. I’d never again leave a piece of me behind. Then, after growing tired of looking at the empty space between two day lilies, I bought two coreopsis plants, something I grew in my most recent former gardens in my most recent former house. They make me smile now, in this moment, and one day I hope they make the people who will live here after me happy, too.
It is my trust in the teachings of impermanence that I have decided it is time for another change, one

Al, left, with her sister, Willow

that I don’t like, but is in Alice’s best interest. The precarious nature of my knee means I don’t know when it will go out next, and I’ve been struggling lately to give her adequate exercise. Alice can’t live with me for a few months after my knee replacement surgery in September anyway, and so her sister Willow’s family has generously offered to foster Al while I attend to my knee now and after the surgery.

Of course, Alice doesn’t understand impermanence, and that’s what grieves me most. My sweet dog, with whom I’ve worked so hard these last four months – who walks perfectly on a lead, understands “No jump!” and runs like the wind (especially when fetch is involved), stands patiently while I bathe her and clean her ears, and earns her “good girl” treats every single day – will not understand why I’m not there to walk her or feed her or play with her or scratch her belly and call her Alice Tiberious Dog. She won’t be able to find me when it storms. I’m pretty sure I’m her best friend. She’s definitely mine. And letting her go is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.
But…this, too, is impermanent. Her feelings, my feelings, my physical challenges…they will morph and change and mutate into something different, most likely better, because I’ve put the best people in place to give these transactions their best shot at success: Willow’s family, my family, my doctor, and my friends.
I will not bury the sadness I feel today. I am allowing it to bathe me with its urgency, just as I let the smell of the Pennsylvania countryside wash over me this morning when I took Al on her last (for a while) walk around our neighborhood. I am comforted by the hope of impermanence, that this, too, shall pass.

12 thoughts on “The Hope of Impermanence

  1. Great post. The smells of nature heal, de-stress, and reset.

    Sorry to hear about having to give up Alice for awhile. It's good that you are putting you first. Although hard, it makes for a better life for you both.

    Hang in there and you will get through this. –

  2. Loved this post. I also appreciated how you planted the flowers in your new garden that you have had in previous homes. I have lived in my home for forty years, and I have bits and pieces of my previous lives and places lived, here and there in my house. It grounds me and reminds me of who I am. I also respond emotionally to smells: old books, parents home, the scent of a grandchild's hair. So I understand what you are saying.

    I was sad to read about Alice, but you are making the only decision that you can make right now. And it is impermanent, because when you're ready, she can come home. She will always belong to you, no matter what.

  3. my husband just showed me a video of a dog welcoming her human 'dad' home from active duty. There was no question of how that dog felt about and remembered it's owner. You have that to look forward to, but meanwhile Alice has distractions and family. that can be good to.

  4. Wow. That is a hard, hard decision. And the one thing you didn't say is that it is also generous and selfless. That is the very best thing you could possibly do for Alice. I wish I could say that I have always made selfless decisions for my dogs. And you are so very lucky that that option was there for you and Alice.

    I love the descriptions of the smells. Sometimes I smell that smell when I am walking on my road and it takes me right back to my childhood vacations at Lake Tahoe. I love it.

    LOL at permanence and plants. I have kept so many of my Japanese maples in pots “just in case I move.” I can't stand the thought of leaving them. I've been here for 27 years now. Of course Japanese maples do very well in pots. But as a symbol of letting go, I have actually planted one in the ground, and will plant another one in the ground come fall.

    Lovely post, Lynn. Can you tell I enjoyed it by the length of my comment LOL?

  5. This is so very sad, but I can't help thinking how wonderful it is that you're able to put Alice's needs ahead of your own.

    Will you be able to visit her when you're mobile? Or do you think that would be too painful?

  6. Lynn you got me in tears because I can totally understand your feelings towards Alice. I don't even want to think about leaving Bella in someone elses care for so long. But you made the right decision and it will be fun for Alice to spend time with her sister. And she still will be your best friend when you bring her home again. Take care!

  7. Hmm. Impermanence is an interesting subject to ponder. I think I, too, rail against change that I don't initiate. The Buddhist teachings that you share here make me want to know more about it.

    As for Alice, it will be such a sweet reunion when she comes home to walk with you again!

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