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Vanishing Islands

When the pandemic first started, I spent an inordinate amount of time buying things. Some of it was admittedly excessive, but much of it was purchased with a strategic goal in mind. A Hippity Hop ball to let my kids blow off energy while staying indoors all day; new sneakers for the exponential increase in running; insoles and a night splint to treat the plantar fasciitis caused by all the running; a second Hippity Hop ball after my son popped the first one the day after it arrived by barreling over a misplaced Magna-Tile.


I also bought stuff with the worthy goal of simply easing my stress: books upon books of poetry because reading them allowed me to escape from the chaos of the real world into a soothing tapestry of words; graphic novels for my daughter because it was one of the few places where she (and therefore I) found solace; a new hiking pack because the mere thought of walking through the woods all day made me feel more like myself and, as a result, calmed me down. Eventually, however, the pace of acquiring things began to slow, partly borne out of a desire to spend less, partly because I felt (at least temporarily) satiated, and partly because I simply lost interest.


When I zoom out and look at what those items represent to me now - only months later - I am reminded how fast things change. In less than six months, my son on that Hippety-Hop ball will be taller than me; and there will be a time in the not so distant future when he will be out of the house and the incessant sound of that giant blue ball bouncing from room to room will simply disappear. Just the other day, about to donate a pair of perfectly good running sneakers in favor of those new ones, I realized that he could wear the old ones because, for the first time, our feet are the same size. When did that happen? I ask myself, repeating the age-old question that has reverberated in the minds of countless generations of parents since the beginning of time. It's been happening, I answer myself, since the day they handed him to you in the hospital.


My daughter tells me that when she grows up, she will be the one writing those graphic novels for other little girls to read. Nothing stays still for long.


Not surprisingly, I see evidence of this across all facets of my life, most obviously as a parent but also as a professional. As a trusts and estates attorney, the old adage about death and taxes has been playing out in my every day professional life for well over a decade now. This is the first time, however, that I see clients universally moving forward with a distinct sense of urgency and purpose. Estate planning has never just been about taxes, but now more than ever it's as if I can tangibly feel the wheels turning inside their hearts and minds wondering: what if?


Throughout her memoir "The Year of Magical Thinking", about the sudden death of her husband at the dinner table, Joan Didion poignantly repeats: "Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends." Towards the end of the book, reflecting on a few deeply personal memories, she writes: "Leis go brown, tectonic plates shift, deep currents move, islands vanish, rooms get forgotten." Yes, for better or for worse, islands do vanish. Nothing is permanent, not even an island.


Living in a world that has been turned upside-down by a microscopic virus, perhaps we no longer need a reminder about how fast things change. Only months ago did we give no thought to hosting guests inside our homes, welcoming each with a warm hug and a kiss. We see each other now from far away, and we reminisce about those days as if they passed decades ago.


But it is one thing to understand what Didion is saying on an intellectual level. Yes, things change - sometimes tragically, sometimes instantly - and we have no way of knowing how or when the change will occur. It is something entirely different, however, to intuit on a purely visceral level that things will not always be as they are. They may get better or they may get worse, but they will not remain unchanged. To actually live this reality, to allow your everyday life to be guided by it, is a transformative experience - arguably the only experience worth seeking. This is because the transformation manifests itself not merely in an internal shift in perception, but also (if you're paying close enough attention) with a decidedly external response to the notion of impermanence, one which seeks to answer again and again the question: what are you going to do about it?


Adapted from LinkedIn Article found here.

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