Humans are the only animal in the world who can truly adapt and grow after surviving a tragedy.
The “this too shall pass meaning” is a phrase that means everything will be okay in the end. The phrase has been used since ancient times.
I bought my first automobile when I was 16 years old. The Isuzu Hombre is a red pick-up vehicle. Yes, the model name of my first automobile was Hombre, which is the Spanish word for man. Hombres, on the other hand, were not a very macho pick-up truck; in fact, they were rather little. I didn’t give a damn. I simply viewed it as the thing that finally emancipated me from having to depend on my parents to get me where I wanted to go. My oyster was the whole planet!
My closest buddy turned 16 two weeks after I acquired the Hombre, and we went out for a night of fun. I rear-ended a man on my way home after an amazing game of laser tag. I got out and double-checked that the person I had struck was alright. I examined the damage after seeing that he was alright. My small Hombre’s front end was no match for the F-150’s bumper, which I had collided with. My buddies made an attempt to soothe me.
“It’s not that horrible, Brett,” says the narrator.
This is my reaction.
“MY CAR HAS BROKEN!!!” I kept repeating that while feverishly pacing back and forth.
My automobile was ruled wrecked by the insurance agency. I was also without a vehicle since I just had liability insurance.
It hit me like a ton of bricks. I skipped two days of school because I was feeling sorry for myself (*facepalm* so pathetic). I had made my first steps toward freedom and independence, yet I was back to depending on my parents to get me about in a matter of seconds.
“Brett, this, too, will pass,” my folks said at one of my pity parties.
They were, of course, correct. That vehicle accident, which looked like the end of the world, like a life-changing event, is now just a hazy recollection from my adolescence, a humorous tale to tell.
In the years since that day, I’ve encountered much more difficult problems and setbacks than a damaged automobile, but that simple advice—this, too, will pass–has stayed with me, providing a sense of perspective and optimism that what seemed permanent wasn’t, and that things would eventually turn around.
You’re Stronger Than You Believe
“Well, ‘this too will pass’ could be true for wrecking a vehicle when you’re a teenager, or trials of a somewhat more painful sort, but not for serious, soul-grinding difficulty,” some of you may be thinking.
What types of products do you think belong in that category? Have you ever been in an accident and been paralyzed? After 50 years of marriage, you’ve lost your spouse? Isn’t it true that you never fully recover from these types of blows?
When we picture these things occurring to us, we certainly feel that way. However, the study contradicts our worries.
In studies of older couples–those who had been married for decades–6 months after their spouse died, 50 percent of the surviving spouses showed little to no signs of acute sorrow or sadness, and only 10% of individuals had a chronic depression that lasted more than 18 months. This is not to suggest that the participants did not miss their departed spouses, but happiness returned to their lives rather fast, and their sadness was not as severe as many people believe.
Another research that tracked persons after they were paralyzed in an accident found that the victims’ happiness restored to approximate pre-accident levels within months of the injury. They also enjoyed routine chores more and were more positive about their future happiness prospects than another group studied–those who had won the lottery.
People often overestimate how sad they’d be and how long their mood would stay when thinking about these and other disasters.
Why is it that the way we picture ourselves reacting to a catastrophic incident differs from how individuals actually experience and recover from one?
Dr. Daniel Gilbert explores the human incapacity to detect and reflect about absences in his book Stumbling on Happiness. We are more concerned with what did occur than than what did not. Gilbert provides the example of being pooped on by a pigeon; it may seem like birds aim towards people’s heads based on this experience. However, if you consider how many times you’ve walked in the same location without being pooped on by a pigeon, you’ll immediately see how irrational that conclusion is.
As Gilbert notes, this failure to understand absences also pertains to how we envisage the future:
“We have an equally alarming inclination to regard the specifics of future events that we don’t envisage as if they aren’t going to happen, just as we treat the details of future events that we do picture as if they aren’t going to happen.” To put it another way, we don’t think about how much imagination fills in, but we also don’t think about how much it leaves out.
To demonstrate this concept, I often ask individuals to imagine how they would feel two years following the loss of their firstborn child. As you may expect, this makes me quite popular at gatherings. I know, I know—this is a torturous task, and I’m not asking you to participate. But the truth is that if you did it, you’d probably respond with something along the lines of “Are you out of your blasted mind?” as virtually everyone does. I’d be heartbroken—totally heartbroken. In the morning, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. I’m afraid I’m going to murder myself. So, who invited you to this party in the first place? If I’m not wearing the person’s drink at this point, I generally go a little more and inquire about how he arrived to his opinion. What pictures or ideas did he have in his head, and what facts did he consider? People often tell me that they imagined receiving the news or that they imagined entering an empty place. However, in all of my years of asking this question and thus excluding myself from every social circle to which I previously belonged, I have yet to hear a single person say that, in addition to these heartbreaking, morbid images, they also imagined the other things that would inevitably happen in the two years following their child’s death. Indeed, no one has mentioned attending another child’s school play, or making love to his spouse, or eating a taffy apple on a warm summer evening, or reading a book, or writing a book, or riding a bicycle, or any of the many other activities that we—and they—would expect to take place during those two years. Now, I’m not proposing that a taste of gooey candy can make up for the death of a kid in any way. The point is that this isn’t the case. What I mean is that the two-year period after a terrible incident must include something—that is, it must be filled with episodes and happenings of some sort—and these episodes and occurrences must have emotional ramifications. Whether the repercussions are huge or minor, negative or good, they must be considered in order to correctly answer my question. Despite this, no one I know has ever envisioned anything other than the singular, horrible occurrence that my question suggests. There’s a lot lacking when people anticipate the future, and the things that are missing matter.”
This is at the heart of why, when we’re in the middle of a funk, we feel like it’ll continue forever, yet it always does. When we anticipate the future, we assume we will always feel the same way we do now, but we don’t consider all of the life events that will prevent us from staying in our room and brooding 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The great majority of people’s brains are unable of ruminating on the same subject endlessly. Life moves on without us, and we are swept along with it.
This isn’t to argue that the pain of certain losses and disappointments goes away altogether. Years after a traumatic occurrence in your life, recollections of that experience might still strike you like a ton of bricks and steal your breath away. People say that time cures all wounds, which is true, but the scar stays long after the open, gaping wounds have healed.
Despite this, we continue on our way, damaged and bruised. Humans have an almost limitless potential for adaptation and a better ability to recover from adversity than most people realize. “Resilience to the disturbing impacts of interpersonal loss is not exceptional but quite widespread,” noted the author of the aforementioned research on widows.
Not only can knowing this information provide you with a ray of optimism when you’re feeling down, but it should also boost your confidence in taking chances in the future. We frequently believe to ourselves, “I can’t do that because if I fail/lose that person/make a mistake, I won’t be able to continue living.” You certainly could and would.
Making It Through the Trial
Sure, this knowledge provides a ray of hope to people who are experiencing one of life’s low moments, but it can’t actually help you get out of it. It’s tough to get yourself out of a funk by reasoning your way out of it.
Your thinking may tell you that the dark period will pass, but it seems as if it would never end. And that’s where a lot of the suffering comes from when you’re going through a tough time: you’re looking down the road and wondering how you’re going to make it. You stare all the way to the horizon, and the route ahead seems to be so lengthy and intimidating that you feel like collapsing under the weight of that enormous load.
How do you deal with these situations?
Take a leaf out of the book of Alcoholics Anonymous. Staying clean isn’t easy–if alcoholics imagined not taking another drink for the next 50 years, they’d quickly get overwhelmed and decide it wasn’t worth the effort. As a result, they approach things “one day at a time.” Keeping clean for decades seems to be unattainable; nevertheless, staying sober for 24 hours appears to be fairly achievable.
Don Gately, a character in David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest, deals with the arduous task of detox in this way. Only he reduces the time he has to live to “the interval between two heartbearts,” which is even less than a day.
“Any one second: he remembered: he couldn’t bear the prospect of feeling how he’d be feeling this second for the next 60 seconds.” He couldn’t f—-ing cope with it. To seize it, he had to construct a wall around each second. The first two weeks are compressed into a fraction of a second in his mind: the time between two heartbeats. Between each cramp, take a breath and stop for a second. A never-ending Now, its gull-wings reaching out on either side of his pulse. And he’d never felt so intensely alive before or since. Between pulses, I’m living in the present.”
Gately is wounded in the shoulder later in the novel, and in order to avoid relapse, he refuses to take narcotic medicines. He decides to cope with the agony in the same manner he dealt with it throughout his detox–by living completely in the tiniest of temporal spaces:
“He could do dextral pain in the same manner he could do dextral pain: abide.” It wasn’t even close to becoming unbearable at times. Here’s a second: he made it through it. The notion of all the instants lined up and extending ahead, sparkling, was unfathomable… It’s too much to consider. To remain there… He could simply burrow down and dwell in the gap between each beating, turning each heartbeat into a wall. “Don’t glance over his shoulder.”
It’s difficult to muster the courage to live for a microsecond, but whatever the smallest period of time you can construct a wall around, live in that area. Don’t ponder about the future when looking over the wall. Simply get through the day. Then wake up the following morning and do it all over again. If you stay in that spot long enough, the seasons will change all around you. Winter will ultimately give way to spring if you simply keep placing one foot in front of the other.
Valleys and peaks
I simply wanted to leave you with a visual recollection of a buddy who once showed me the “this, too, shall pass” philosophy. When I’m having a bad day, I think about it a lot. Make a fist with your hand and examine your knuckles. There are peaks and valleys to be seen. Peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys, peaks and You may be in a valley right now, but you’ll soon be on top of a mountain. Simply keep sticking up your dukes and fighting the good fight every day.
“This too shall pass gandalf” is a phrase that has been used for centuries. It means that things will get better even if it seems like everything is going wrong. Reference: this too shall pass gandalf.
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