Many years ago I had an adorable British boyfriend who used to smile at me and say, « It’ll all end in tears. ». I don’t know where he picked up this expression nor why he said it so often with great cheer. It was like it was a good thing or a universal truth. Nothing good can last. He had dimples, an enticing accent and a gentle manner so it was a mixed message, this truism about sad endings. The Cambridge dictionary suggests this sentence as an illustration: She only met him in May and they were married by July. It’ll end in tears, you’ll see. I guess many marriages, maybe the majority now, end in tears. As do many children’s play dates.
My lovely kindergarten teacher, the woman who taught me to read and so maybe the most influential adult in my life, another Philomena, had a similar outlook. She would say, in her lovely Irish accent, that it was too bad it was a sunny day because surely tomorrow it would rain. She meant it. If we are enjoying life right now, watch out, bad things are coming. I always thought this fatalism came from her Catholicism but I never asked.
For most of my life I espoused this belief too. If things are too delightful, really going swimmingly, watch out! A bad turn is right around the corner. I had life experiences that reinforced this belief. I knew what it felt like for the other shoe to drop, hard, right on my face, when I was least expecting it and so I felt I had evidence that good things can’t last. I was in love quite a lot before I came to France and I remember the feeling. A beautiful afternoon, so much affection and romance, and I would say to myself: pay attention, soak it up, enjoy this because you will not always have it. I felt that way about mountain biking as well. I will definitely not be tearing down Jabberwocky when I’m 80 so every swoop through the dust was to be savored.
So the question is whether an awareness of the precariousness of our pleasures enhances them or diminishes them. That’s the thing. Although my doom and gloom beliefs about the future colored much of my life, I think I actually enjoyed some things more because of them. Fatalism, the aesthetic gift. When I was with that person I was in love with, I was fully there, savoring the joy. I had no idea it would end when it did nor that it would be such a cruel ending but when the end came I was happy that I had so relished the good moments. I savored my pleasures and my good feelings.
I had one child and I had him late in life and after much struggling. So many times I reminded myself, enjoy this, even when it was hard. And here we are confined together and it’s hard and I tell myself, enjoy this. These too are precious moments even if they aren’t the moments we would have chosen.
Last fall when I was riding my bike around sunny Toulouse I rode past a young girl in a perfect outfit in a lovely square. She was sitting in the sun with grandparents and eating an ice cream. And I thought to myself, we have so much. We have peace and safety here. We have ice cream when we want it and the children have pretty places to play whenever they’d like. Was it too much? Were we too privileged? In that moment it felt to me as though yes, things were just too good. Prémonition? Privileged person guilt? Old wounds of doom? I don’t know. It wasn’t a negative moment, just a fleeting impression that stuck. We have so much.
My favorite quote from BKS Iyengar is: Future suffering can and should be avoided. This can mean many things. Do yoga today so tomorrow or in 700 tomorrows you can still tie your own shoes. Say no to the enticing offer of something that you know will end in tears. Get your ducks in a row today so that you still have some ducks when there’s no one left to talk to. But the interpretation that I often mentioned to my students is don’t suffer for tomorrow when it’s still today. So much of our pain comes from anticipating the bad things to come. They may. They will. They might change their painful shape. Or as the Buddhists seem to say, we are all going to suffer, it’s guaranteed. However, right now, watching a pink sunrise and trees waving in the wind and with a kitchen that smells delicious because my son made a lemon cake and with a body that is still pretty happy, it’s not too good, it’s just good.