Ephemeral Life

by Curtis Grindahl, Client Intake Coordinator

I celebrated my seventieth birthday as Dale and I were putting the finishing touches on this newsletter, which means I’ve been incarnated in this body for seventy years and nine months. From the inside, one’s journey feels compelling and significant, and as the years slip by it feels substantial. Our stories are so compelling. Yet, I’m reminded over and over again that, as the Buddha said, my life is little more than the twinkling of a firefly in the long arc of human history.

I recall visiting my partner’s home shortly after our marriage and pouring through a stack of photo albums in the den. I was introduced to family members, first those still living who occupied the topmost albums, and then those who had departed. But when we reached the bottom album my partner didn’t know who those people were. We took the album downstairs and asked her mother. She didn’t know them either. They were surely part of their family’s history, yet these once substantial lives left nothing more than faded photographs; their accomplishments, even their names were forgotten.

As an amateur photographer I occasionally visit a local cemetery that was established late in the nineteenth century by a number of Italian families, many of whom were living in San Francisco and who, apparently, didn’t mind the ferry trip required at the time to reach San Rafael. As I ramble about the cemetery I note familiar names associated with businesses and streets in San Francisco and elsewhere around the Bay area. But I also find graves that have long been abandoned, stones coming apart, markers tumbled to the ground, the inhabitants long forgotten.

Life is precious in part because it is brief. I’ve learned over the years as a volunteer, working with perhaps a dozen clients, that the time of life’s ending is unknown to us, and often comes in the most unexpected ways. I’ve never worked with a person who has been older than I am, even a dozen years ago when I still considered myself a young man.

So we celebrate the preciousness of life; we embrace the gift we’ve been given, for however long it may last. And we share it with those whom we love for surely that is the most precious part of being alive. It is important not to lose track of these truths as we live what feel like substantial, compelling lives. Each moment is a gift and life is fleeting.