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A Tempest in a Terra-cup: impermanence, whirling into a new year (12/21/21)

Updated: Dec 25, 2021

"The Christmas tree I think got sucked up with the presents," the girl said, in an NPR interview.[1]

“Sucked up.” From her living-room, she meant, last week. Sucked up into the sound and fury of weather. Way higher than the girl, or any decorative tree or cluster of gifts could have expected they’d ever be sucked. “20-30,000 feet above ground,” according to the local meteorologists. Kissing the stratosphere, high as we might sit inside an airplane.

Whole households no longer held.

The young girl’s Christmas presents? Now crash-landed back on Earth. So much news-chopper-cam debris.

Also, within this child’s voice? I thought I heard something. A one-shouldered shrug.

An understanding that: Life Sucks Like That or Something Like That. So. A sucked-up Christmas tree, all those wrapped presents never torn into, gone?


I may have heard more (or otherwise) than she felt (or accepted) especially in her state of shock and trauma.

Nevertheless, I persisted: what a spectacular gift for her. Once old enough to understand ‘object permanence,’ also old enough to understand the deeper truth of transience?

Impermanence, in spite of our habit of living, daily, coffee-and-then, as if rather more continuous. We keep waking up in our bodies and moving about, to one degree or another. How could we not be, when we only experience and remember being? Yet we seem to ‘get’ this not-continuous at a fairly young age.

Deep in our inheritance over millennia, we must remember the wildfire that devoured our tribe's pine-forest camp, the deluge of a flash flood, the un-god-ly sky of a tempest (well before weather satellites) after marching across an ocean toward us.

An obvious and universal human concept, to wrangle with impermanence. “Change is the only constant,” we say. “Here today, gone tomorrow.” As if change, loss – of all that gets sucked-up -- felt easy. Or something like easy.

Have I ever signed a contract or agreement that did not include exemptions for “Acts of God” (weather –tornadoes or hurricanes or floods or wildfires, even earthquakes)? I don’t think I ever have. Lawyers must be superstitious as hell.

The very Earth beneath us, poised to shift and shake and subduct – she wants to make mountains while we want to plant tomatoes or build sheds or skyscrapers;

the Wind around us inhales, hungry for Christmas trees and squirrel nests and gymnasium rooftops;

the Fire, a breathing being itself, unconcerned with architectural wonder or ancient wisdom in forests, just eats and strolls and metabolizes and passes out;

the big Water that earns us Blue Planet status, and knows well, without bragging, how it can smother all the others, all said and done and drowned and what are you gonna do about it, terra-based living things – build a bigger boat, hahaha!

Acts, the stuff of angry deities, smiteful overlords, monsters alert and lurking and out for our very blood, soon laughing at our delusions of dominion. (Or cheating death, somehow.) Mere mammalian critters, we.

Critters who, at a certain and frankly young-ish age, can conceive of our own mortality, at a date t.b.d. We who can hold a truism close like, “death makes life meaningful.” Right – that’s right!

As if our own sensory experience of each other and all that surrounds us on a shared, living planet will feel easy -- to let go? Gone tomorrow, ashes to ashes, dust in the wind?

I confess I am not ready for any more deaths of those whom I love, even knowing and holding that truism, even true as it may be.

The Buddha is said to have said, “Every single moment we’re undergoing birth and death. This is the way things are.”

Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Celtic lore, ancient-Greek teaching … likely as long as we’ve been humans, we tip our caps at the concept.

In (now Saint) Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day … the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Heraclitus of Ephesus (born before Socrates) described impermanence as panta rhei (everything flows). We of Western-Civ acculturation know it as becoming. None of us can dip a toe into the same river, twice.

Me, as 2021 wheels toward its man-measured, artificial ‘end’?

I keep thinking about that little girl in Kentucky, understanding that everything from inside her known world of safety, her very shelter against Elements that become Acts of God, everything disappeared upward in a violent storm.

Except her closest humans, her true shelter, still alive and still talking to reporters from NPR.

She will fare well as the Omicron variant makes its way through our ‘sentient’ animal layers of delusion, paranoia, immunosuppression or communitarian mindsets.

Our planet’s activities of daily life are doing their darnedest right now. Planetwise, we’re trying to preserve the whole of us – or something like it.

Our planet, for the most part, can bathe, dress, run a comb through her hair (however deforested), sweep a broom, lift a spoon to her own mouth for nourishment, wipe herself after a good poop, then hoist herself into bed, perchance to dream?

Might be time to call for palliative consult. Hospice, even. Kentucky schoolchildren, even.

Your Muffin is none-the-wiser about long-calendar weather patterns. Or how many decorative house-trees have ever been sucked up in a vortex toward the stratosphere from a troposphere.

But she finds herself surviving, a mid-sized animal who can’t help but wonder what, unexpectedly, will suck her up into some fearsome weather? What, in 2022, could knock her silly into 2023, if she’s lucky and barely breathing? Or into oblivion before then? If her luck runs out, or if she might just be – however painful to consider – even luckier, if it does?

No gloom intended. Just, still learning at my ever-advancing-age, and grateful for both Piaget’s stages of child development (object permanence at about age 2) and any number of spiritual guides’ stages of soul development (impermanence through death from about age 12).

Grateful for wisdom earned and unearned, by virtue of not dying yet, as my own years-alive-calendar, and my western civilization’s, wrap up another revolution around our suburban star in a milky galaxy.

Stay safe, and delighted, friends. Thanks so much for reading,


If you’re curious, for further reading:

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