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This too shall pass

July 17, 2008

“King Solomon once searched for a cure against depression. He assembled his wise men together. They meditated for a long time and gave him the following advice: Make yourself a ring and have thereon engraved the words “This too shall pass”. The King carried out the advice. He had the ring made and wore it constantly. Every time he felt sad and depressed, he looked at the ring, whereon his mood would change and he would feel cheerful.”

Jewish folktale

I decided to stay put in the office today after being told traffic in the city is horribly snarled. My associate had to cancel our lunch appointment. He ranted on the phone about the timing of this inconvenience. All I could say to him was, “Dude, take it easy. It’ll pass.”

When I was a kid I suffered from a nasty rash caused by an allergy. I overheard the nurses say that allergies stay with you for life which made me so scared I cried. My dad gave me a hug and said, “Look kiddo, don’t worry, it’ll go away soon.” And one day when I was 14, it disappeared as suddenly as it came.

A couple of years ago when I was in a commuter plane midway between Denver and the Twin Cities the plane bounced around violently and suddenly took a steep dive. It was tornado season and I think we flew into a storm. Luggage and things flew everywhere in the cabin and people were screaming. I’ve taken hundreds of plane rides and I can tell you this was no ordinary turbulence. This is the end, I thought. Somewhere in my head I furiously thought, “It will pass, it will pass.” Then as suddenly as it started, the plane leveled again as it flew out of the clouds.

Oh I’m quite sure I had nothing to do with why these things passed. What I believe is that is that nothing about us is permanent. No hardship is ever permanent. No happiness is ever permanent. When we’re hungry we eat, then we feel hungry again. When we are caught up in a bad situation, the clouds eventually part for the sun to shine, and then we find more trouble for ourselves again.

This might sound strange to you but this Jewish folktale has been a source of comfort to me. Knowing that bad times are guaranteed to pass helps me keep a positive outlook when things aren’t perfect. Knowing that a fun ride ends even if I don’t want it to helps me temper my expectations and avoid too much disappointment.

That’s how I learn to keep a smile in good times and bad. Its a heluva lot better than rapidly flipping between ecstatic highs and heartbreaking lows that people say is ‘normal’. As normal as the frown lines permanently etched on one of my ex boss’s foreheads. Alternating between extreme hot and extreme cold enough times will crease and break anything. We are not exempted.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. LC Teh permalink
    July 17, 2008 5:34 pm

    I still find it hard to keep that smile especially in bad times, but that quote “This too shall pass” struck a chord. I still have a similar sentence I wrote into my diary when stuck in a dead end situation in Jakarta 24 years ago. “As sure as good times never last, bad times will also come to pass”. And I kept that in my mind until I got home to join my family 3 months later.

    Looks like our minds are on same frequency here.

  2. Damien permalink*
    July 18, 2008 7:03 am

    I was actually introduced to that line by Ajahn Brahm, a British Buddhist monk with a wicked sense of humor. He was talking about keeping an even keel in times of emotional rollercoasting.

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