Ron's Blog

Enjoy Ron Culberson's insights on a variety of topics

Living in a World of Impermanence 33

Living in a World of Impermanence

The C&O Restaurant in Charlottesville, VA is a very special place for my wife and me. Back in 1982, when I was in college, I had more hair but less money. I took my then girlfriend Wendy to the C&O Restaurant for Valentine’s Day. We had a wonderful evening but the meal set me back about sixty dollars and I had to borrow cash from my parents before the check I wrote hit my bank account. Eventually, I was able to pay my parents back and a few years later, despite my lack of financial resources, Wendy married me anyway.

More recently, after living near Washington, DC for almost thirty years, we moved back to the Charlottesville area and were delighted to see that the C&O Restaurant was still there. It has since become our go-to restaurant for anniversaries and special events. And luckily, I no longer have to borrow money to eat there. Wendy pays. 

Anyway, everything we have ordered off the menu at the C&O Restaurant is outstanding. But, when it comes to dessert, there is only one choice—the Sticky Toffee Pudding. It is hands down the best dessert I’ve ever eaten. I’m not sure what’s in it but I’m pretty confident that it has butter, sugar, more butter, and a bit of flour and eggs to hold all the butter together. Every time we get it, we simply melt into a confectionary nirvana. But then, a few minutes later, it’s all gone and the magical moment ends.

This is a fact of life. Things are impermanent. But we can still embrace all that we experience so that our lives are enriched along the way.

I grew up in Emory, VA, a town that was home to Emory & Henry College, Addison’s Drug Store, and a tiny post office where the Postmaster sometimes read your mail. Our next-door neighbors were Ed and Gini Bingham, a lovely couple who intrigued me with their homemade bread-making skills and the fact that they used honey in their tea instead of white sugar like the rest of us southerners. Ed was a professor at the college, and for the second half of her life, Gini was a potter. You see, when their daughter Kathy was twenty-five, she died in a hiking accident. It was an overwhelming tragedy and for several years after the accident, Gini was so distraught, she said, “I couldn’t go a minute without thinking about it.”

As Gini began to emerge form her grief, she felt the need to find an activity to help occupy her mind. So, she studied the craft of pottery, built a kiln in her back yard, and became an exquisite potter. I remember visiting her pottery studio on a regular basis when I was a kid. I’d sit nearby and watch as Gini created bowls, vases, and mugs from spinning lumps of clay. She made some of the most beautiful and unusual pottery I’ve ever seen.

In 1986, when Wendy and I got married, a number of my hometown neighbors gave us pieces of Gini’s pottery as wedding gifts. And then, whenever we went back home to visit my parents, we’d stop by her studio to see the newest items she had created. I think we bought at least one piece every time we were there and she’d almost always throw in something for free like a leaf-shaped trivet or an odd looking experimental serving dish. As a result, we collected quite an assortment of “Gini pottery” over the years.

Unfortunately, Gini died of cancer several years ago. So, our current collection of soap dispensers, baking dishes, and coffee mugs are the last pieces of her pottery we will ever have. 

There was a time when we didn’t want to use the pottery for fear that we would break it. We imagined that we could lose it all and be permanently disconnected from our special relationship with Gini. Then, one day, it occurred to me that if we didn’t use any of it, those beautiful mugs and dishes would just sit in the cabinet and never give us any joy.

So, now we use everything. And occasionally, we do break a vase or a coffee mug. And when we do, we appropriately feel the loss but we also appreciate the time we had to enjoy it.

In the world of mindfulness, there is a valuable principle called impermanence. Basically it reminds us that nothing in our earthly environment lasts forever—not people, not pets, not pottery, not even our time on this planet. Everything physical comes to an end at some point and by recognizing this fact, perhaps we can embrace and appreciate the time we do have in our world more fully.

You see, we have a tendency to cling. We cling to people, experiences, and material possessions. And when we cling, the act of clinging can become more important than the joy that these people, experiences, and possessions bring us. As a result of the clinging, we can develop fears and anxiety related to the ultimate loss of these things.

In the book, Living with the Empty Chair, Roberta Temes discusses the experience of losing a loved one. She says, “When you no longer fear it or revere it, but can simply accept it, you will know that you are completing your grief work.”

I think this is how it works. When we accept each moment, each possession, each person but do not cling to them nor obsess about the fear losing them, we are truly being present in the moment and can wholeheartedly embrace the gift that the relationship to these events, things, and people brings.

Wendy and I really enjoy our Sticky Toffee Pudding. Our morning coffee tastes a little bit better when we drink it from one of Gini’s pottery mugs. Our friends and family are always a joy to us. And while we understand that one day each of these things will no longer be here, we have been blessed by them all along the way.

This is the principle of impermanence and the way we balance it is to live fully every single day.

33 comments

  • carol says:

    This is just so true. I lost my father who was so near and dear to me and as a nurse I cared for him for the last 9 weeks of his life. For the past 4 years not a day went by that I did not mourn him and often cry but for the last year I still think of him everyday but it is not in a mournful thought but a happy thought. I believe I have gotten through the grief of loss and living in the reality of his life and his impact he made on my life and the joy it brings.

  • Pat says:

    Thank you. This hit home for me today.

  • Lisa Radtke says:

    What a special and heartfelt message, Ron. This touched me especially today as I learned last evening my beloved golden doodle, Brule’, who is 8 years old, has cancerous cells in one of his legs. Because of the location, intervention is tricky at best, life threatening at worst. So, we simply wait and see what happens. I was feeling especially sad about this when I read your message and began to reflect on the beauty of each moment, as you so elegantly shared. Brule’ doesn’t know the difference and he is out there enjoying each moment as he does everyday…he is such a teacher about living in the moment no matter what. Your message today brought me back to his love for life and I am delighted to be in student mode as we navigate this journey together. I love the synchronicity of the timing of your message. You can know you make a difference through your sharing! Blessings to you and Wendy on behalf of my happy dog and me! Lisa :-)

  • Penny says:

    How appropriate for me to read today. Sunday we lost a dear friend that we have known for 30 years. This morning we lost my dear aunt. Thank you for your words. I plan to take them to heart and live each day to the fullest.

  • Lindsey says:

    I always love reading your posts. This hit close to home for me. I just recently lost my father and I miss him terribly everyday. The line you wrote that states” When we accept each moment, each possession, each person but do not cling to them nor obsess about the fear of losing them, we are truly being present in the moment and can wholeheartedly embrace the gift that the relationship to these events, things, and people brings.” is so true and I wish all could remember that. Live each day and love those who you have each day. Thanks again!

  • Charles Duncan says:

    Thank you RON. I enjoy your stories and the point you are making. Well done. Charlie Duncan

  • Anita Ciano says:

    So many great insights! Thank you Ron!

  • Judy says:

    Well said Ron

  • Gloria Wagner Surber says:

    Ron–this is one of my favorites. So much truth wrapped up in this message. Yet, it’s truth that is often hard for us to learn. Our family recently experienced a change that has brought a lot of hurt and sorrow. Nothing stays the same. We cannot let these inevitable changes rob us of our joy.

  • Peggy T. says:

    Amen. Thank you, Ron.

  • anne says:

    when my mother-in-law died, we found a piece of silk that my father-in-law had brought back for her from service in the philippines during world war 2. she was saving it to make something special with. she never used that beautiful silk.

    • Interesting. I wonder if she looked at it often and thought about what it could be?

      • anne says:

        she bought hundreds and hundreds of pieces of fabric after receiving this piece of silk. she made lots of her own clothes with some of this fabric, saving the rest for us to distribute after her death.

  • Benjamin Dela Cruz says:

    Thank you Ron for this wonderful reminder that nothing lasts forever… It reminds me of how many people (I see in the hospital) cling on to their love ones and wont let go… and every time I see this, I question myself – do they really love this person who is actively dying that they prefer to prolong his suffering? … and I always answer myself that they must have hated this “love ones”.

    I am so glad that I attended our Northwell Nursing Conference, heard your amazing talk, and subscribed here! You are simply brilliant!

  • Kit says:

    I loved reading this! Especially as we just finished a weekend of purging items as we are getting our house ready to sell. I also used to love just being in Gini’s studio and was thrilled when I got the chance to play with the clay. What special memories! I also realized as I read this, all my Gini pottery is sitting on shelves not being used for fear of it breaking. Maybe tomorrow I’ll have coffee in one of her mugs!

  • Dede says:

    Thank you Ron,

    I am moving my youngest 2500 miles away from me next week. This newsletter really hit home.

    “….the act of clinging can become more important than the joy that these people bring us….”

    We mamas like to cling! I don’t want to miss the wonderful experience of seeing my daughter grow and mature because I am too focused on losing her.

    Thank you!

  • Brian Hennessy says:

    What a great message! My wife insists I go through the basement boxes a couple times each year to hopefully let go of a few more things…I will glance at an old book or some item and take a walk down Sentimental Ave. I’ve adopted a new thought with much of my stuff that says, “If I haven’t touched it in a year, maybe I can steward it forward to someone who will actually read it, use it, play with it or hang it up…” When I took this approach I realized how good that felt versus boxing it back up just for me.

  • Geoff says:

    Your best piece yet, Ron. Well done.

    God bless.

Add comment