Tao Living

Old Friends

by Derek Lin

Once, there was a gathering of three old friends. They were all scholars leading busy lives, but they made it a point to meet once a year to make sure they would always stay in touch with one another.

This time, the gathering felt different. They were all getting old and starting to feel their age. Sensing this, the first scholar remarked: "We are all here together this year, enjoying each other's company, but who can say if we will all be able to come back and be together again next year?"

The second scholar laughed: "Next year? I think you may be looking too far ahead and assuming too much. Today I am alive, but who can say if tomorrow I will open my eyes to greet another day?"

They turned to the third scholar, who had been quiet. He looked up at them thoughtfully, and said: "Tomorrow? My friends, as I sit here with you, I do not know if each breath I draw will be my last. Who can say for certain if one breath will be followed by another?"

The Tao

This story is short but deeply meaningful. It points to how uncertain and impermanent life really is. We are all alive now, at this particular moment in time - but we can never know how long we will remain this way.

The first scholar measured life in terms of years, as most people do. When we talk about age, we think about the number of years we have been around. When someone passes away, we immediately refer to his or her lifespan. Number of years is also how we measure our most significant milestones in life, like education (years of schooling), career (years at a job) and marriage (wedding anniversaries).

The second scholar pointed out that this measurement did not accurately reflect how fleeting life could be. A year seems like a long time to the human mind, so we may think we still have plenty of time, and we can look forward to many years down the road. The truth is that we may not have many years or even one year ahead of us. There is always the possibility that everything will suddenly come to an end in a matter of days, or even in just one day.

The third scholar spoke the most powerful truth of all. Ultimately, the transience of life is not measured in years or days. Rather, it flows from one moment to the next. We simply do not know how many minutes or seconds we still have. We hope everything will continue on indefinitely, but it can all fade to black without warning. Therefore, every minute, every second, indeed every instant we experience is a gift beyond compare, something we should cherish and appreciate.

Through the friendship of the three scholars, this story also makes it clear that our connections to one another are just as precious as the gift of life. Our beloved friends and family members are the ones who make this transient existence worthwhile. We should never take them for granted, just as we should never take the present moment for granted.

Everything the three scholars said apply to the presence of loved ones in our lives. Sometimes we see them almost as fixtures, as if they will always be there. We expect, at the very least, to have them around for many years to come. This is why the loss of a loved one always comes as such a shock. How can it be that they are not around anymore? What about the many more years that we expected to spend with them?

It is as the second scholar pointed out thinking in terms of years may be assuming too much. Perhaps we only have them around for a few more days, and it may well be that thinking in terms of days is also too optimistic. No one can guarantee that these special people will remain in our world from one moment to the next. Sometimes, life seems tenacious and strong; other times, it can seem like a candle flame, ready to flicker out of existence in the wind.

This is something we need to keep in mind, especially during the holidays. This is the perfect time to reflect on the blessing of having these special people as a part of your life. Some of them you may not have seen in quite a while. If so, be sure to take advantage of the holiday season to spend time with them, enjoy their company and treasure their presence.

When you reconnect with your loved ones, tell them know grateful you feel to have them. Let them know that you regard every instant you have them in your life as a gift, so that every day with them is a treasure, and every year of togetherness is an incredible, blessed miracle. Look into their eyes, and you will find the sacred Tao there despite the uncertainty and impermanence of life, it shines like a star.

Copyright 1998-2016 by Derek Lin
All Rights Reserved.

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