When I was in high school, I had this great literature teacher who made us write a paper every week — no more than two pages each. The assignment alternated between two assignments. One week, we had to compare any two books from the long list of American and English literature; the other week, we had to write about a quote he'd give us. One week, the quote was, "This too shall pass." It's resonated with me ever since.
In some sense, it was my first conscious engagement with the thought, image, and concept of flux (I'd sure as hell lived it but thinking it was all together different). I have to admit I don't remember what I wrote for the paper (although I do remember what I wrote for others) but I do know that that quote sat with me, pervaded me, and got me through some rough times. No matter how awful some event is, no matter how stressful or painful, it too shall pass.
What glorious relief! What a lift to the great burden of existence! If something is really, really crappy, I can just wait it out!
Of course, this ignores the other side of the equation, if you will. If something really, really great is happening — love, happiness, pleasure — that too shall pass. Life is impermanence. Everything gives way in the end, or earlier, to something else (hints of Hegel, I suppose).
And yet there is a rhetorical perspective within those words. Yes, it points to the impermanence of everything but, somehow, it doesn't seem indifferent. It seems relieved, as if life were too difficult to bear, as if life were a problem in the first place, as if we needed relief.
Perhaps I'm reading it too negatively. After all, all it's saying is that everything passes, everything gives way — the good and the bad.
And yet it seems uttered with a little resentment, a little ressentiment, as if delivered from on high by some god who sits in an eternal throne watching the silly transience of human existence. Indeed, there is something beautifully and horribly religious working in this one four-word phrase.
After all, why tell me that this too shall pass? Either it's to offer relief from suffering or to check my hubris. In either case, there's a hint of resentment against life, against its transience, as if flux were a problem for which we needed reminding. And perhaps we do.
But what if we already know that life is flux and we love it all the more for it? I think of Andy Goldsworthy who toils for hours, weeks, months on a creating something that he knows will very quickly be swept away by the wind or waves. He doesn't need to be told that this too shall pass! He builds in the face of flux, with the windings of flux, letting the wind and waves and river and tides be his co-creator. In this passing, Goldsworthy finds creation, the emergence of life at the precise point of its disappearance.
It seems to me that the joyful, those who adhere to a gay science, to amor fati — to those who love life in all its shapes and forms, from vomiting phlegm for days (Nietzsche's example and own ailment) to getting jiggy in the bar — such joyful people don't ever utter, "this too shall pass," precisely because they already know this shall pass — and they love it! Such lovers of life utter something else, something that seems like the same thing but is in fact worlds away. They utter, "And this, too!"
I'm captivated by this phrase, this inflection on the one I learned 30 years ago. And is an incredible word, at once conjunctive and disjunctive. It brings things together without necessarily uniting them. This and this and this and this...and and and to infinity (pace Deleuze). I actually learned the power of and from Whitman who is a voracious consumer of life in all its sundry forms. To read Leaves of Grass is to be swept up into the glorious wind, the absolute affirmation, of the infinite and. He loves this and this and that and that, too, and then this and this and that and on and on and on. He doesn't unify it; there is no dialectic (Hegel fades into the background). He consumes whole heartedly.
This is part of what I love about this phrase, "And this too." It's voracious. It's consumptive — Yeah, gimme that and that — without being greedy or gluttonous. And loves to take in the world.
But the full phrase tempers that consumption with an exquisite indifference of life happening as it does, proffering its multifarious gifts — Yeah, that happened, too. And yeah, it will pass, duh. But what I dig is that it happened, that it's happening. So, yes, this too. There is an unabashed love of life.