It’s All Beautiful and Nothing Lasts

“It’s all beautiful and nothing lasts.” It’s a phrase that showed up in a dream of mine last night, as something I said to my wife as we were crossing a street in a big city. The street was where her father’s family’s farm used to be, in the dream — something that had some resonance in the real world, as her father’s family’s farm is now part of the Dayton International Airport. The dream me made the comment not about the farm in particular, but about life in general, prompted by the farm turned city street.

And it’s a true statement. All of it is beautiful, and it doesn’t last. I’m old enough now to be at the point where I see the movement of life, and me through it, to see people I like and love pass away and to see people I like and love grow up and become who they are. People move, stay and move again; houses become homes, and homes become vacant houses once more. Strangers become friends and sometimes become strangers again. Life happens and it’s a gorgeous thing — all of it, even the annoying parts — and it doesn’t last. It’s all temporary and doesn’t stay.

Before you ask: I’m fine. Everyone around me is fine. Even my pets are fine. Indeed, generally speaking, life is very good. If I had to peg a predicate cause for any of this, it would be going to a memorial service of a distant relative yesterday, who I knew only from family reunions, and coming across a comment in a discussion thread from my friend Jay Lake, which because it was part of a back and forth with several other people, momentarily gave the illusion that he was still with us, alive and engaged. But I think it’s just simply more that I’m now aware that life moves, and I do too.

One thing I think is worth noting is how my brain phrased the statement: “It’s all beautiful and nothing lasts.” This is a qualitatively different statement than it would have been if the dream version of me had said “it’s beautiful but nothing lasts.” That to me feels defeatist — what’s the point of acknowledging the beauty of life if it just goes away. That fact that it doesn’t last is why you should acknowledge it: it won’t stay, it will be gone and you will be gone, too. But while you live, that beauty exists and it is there for you to love and cherish, and to be a part of and to add to if you can.

It won’t last. Nothing lasts. But it’s here, and you should be here for it, and in it.

Thank you for being part of it, in this moment. I appreciate it, and the moment we’re sharing. I hope you do too.

55 Comments on “It’s All Beautiful and Nothing Lasts”

  1. Before anyone brings it up, yes, the phrase is reminiscent of “It was all beautiful and nothing hurt,” from Kurt Vonnegut. The sentiments are a bit different (not in the least because I don’t think it doesn’t hurt, from time to time).

  2. Thank you, John.

    The passing year’s been difficult and several losses have accumulated. This is a beautiful and helpful way to think about it.

  3. Beauty is ephemeral… if it wasn’t, humans would become acclimated and cease to see it. So I like that there are moments of pure amazing among stretches of… normal, and that things change, and that people change, and that life happens.

    Thank you for sharing your interpretations. They are always worth reading.

  4. Thank you, too. I appreciate it as well. And thank you also for putting it into words. It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in the everyday things – a reminder to stand still and take a quiet look at how it all is and still unfolds is a good thing every now and then.

  5. Among the many pithy bits of Wisdom my dad would frequently repeat was, “The essence of life is change.” I had to pass 35 before I began to understand it, and it’s only gotten a lot more clear in the years since.

    The corollary to it was “This too shall pass.” Once you realize life isn’t static and everything moves and changes, you become less stressed by the bad stuff. The world (or you) will change, and the bad stuff will change, too, often for the less-bad or even good.

    (PS: please double-check your 3rd paragraph from the bottom. You’ve got what I suspect are two word-changing typos that also change the meaning of the sentences. Or else I don’t really understand what you’re trying to say there.)

  6. A spiritual teacher I head speak put it this way: “Make friends with impermanence.” I don’t remember if it was a quote or not, but it really zinged me.

  7. Oh, earth,you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it — every, every minute?

    No. .. The saints and poets, maybe they do some.

  8. “All those… moments… will be lost in time, like tears… in… rain.” Roy Batty, who knew what he was talking about.

  9. Looking out my window at the trees changing color, the leaves falling–it’s a particularly appropriate sentiment for Fall, I think: nothing lasts, or everything lasts, because it comes around again even as we fade. “The trees are in their autumn beauty,/The woodland paths are dry . . .”

    Nice. Thank you.

  10. Two more typos, I think:-
    “That to me feels defeatist — what’s the people of acknowledging the beauty of life it is just goes away.”

    And I can think of two exceptions to your dream-self’s axiom:- death and taxes…

  11. It seems somehow fitting that I read this while waiting on hold to make an appointment for the 5 year check up for my “baby”- I’ve been looking at her and her older sister and shaking my head at how big they’ve gotten a lot lately. I greatly prefer that to looking in the mirror and noticing how old I’m getting- but then again, I’m slowly learning to make peace with getting old. There’s a lot I like about being in my 40s, and I don’t think I’d trade to be 20 again, despite what the mirror tells me.

    I love the sentiment and I love how dream you stated it.

  12. Your dream quote is wonderful. I remember standing next to my father on the edge of Lake Michigan when I was three or four, and he said, “In life, everything changes but change.” That is, the change was the constant. Your essay brought back that memory. Thanks.

  13. There’s that key line from Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

    “Here and now we are alive”.

    Thank you for that reminder.

  14. This post reminded me of this quote: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard” -Winnie the Pooh.

  15. While it may not last – part of the beauty of the cycle is that something NEW which will come along may be just as beautiful – or more beautiful.

  16. The title reminds me of the Robert Frost poem Nothing Gold Can Stay, which was used in S.E. Hinton’s YA classic The Outsiders:

    Nature’s first green is gold,
    Her hardest hue to hold.
    Her early leaf’s a flower;
    But only so an hour.
    Then leaf subsides to leaf.
    So Eden sank to grief,
    So dawn goes down to day.
    Nothing gold can stay.

    The autumnal sentiment, along with the picture of the tree, also reminds me of a line from a John Denver song entitled Fall (from the B side, I believe, of the Rocky Mountain High album):

    It seems a shame to see September swallowed by the wind
    But more than that, it’s oh so sad to see the summer end

  17. John Shea–Death and taxes too are transient. For people of supernatural faith, death stands merely as a temporary-in-duration transition from the beauty of life here to the beauty of existence elsewhere. Taxes, well the ones we paid this year are spent, mostly on things we need and use such as roads, schools, helping those in need, and the like. The taxes we will pay next year will be new taxes to meet the needs of the new year. In a way, both death and taxes have their elements of beauty.

  18. On the very rare ocasions that my father referred to the Bible at all he would quote from Ecclesiastes; I have sometimes wondered whether my passion for the works of Roger Zelazny stemmed from that first encounter on shared ground.

    I do know that the last paragraphs of ‘Lord of Light’ have helped me through some tough moments in my life…

  19. Very true, John. Like the Tibetan mandalas say. A few days ago I relocated a childhood home in Southern Cal with Google Map. It’s still there, in the same neighborhood, but it’s not quite the same. That time has passed and all that’s left is a residual structure that roughly corresponds to memory. Everything is fleeting. And so it goes up the scale to the concept of a multiverse. We’re all on the same road, just at different points, essentially.

  20. “This too shall pass” becomes “none shall pass” becomes “‘Look, you stupid bastard. You’ve got no arms left!” becomes an hour reading Monty Python quotes and then I forget what I was doing in the first place.

  21. Laura W.: Your father’s line reminded me of one by Charles Olson, so much so that I had to go track it down: “What does not change / is the will to change.”

  22. For some years, I believed that my divorce meant I was going to die alone. Then last spring I met a wonderful woman. We liked each other well, met as often as we could, went away for some secret meetings away from our (grown) kids. It was such a beautiful summer, one of the best in my life. For different reasons, none of us was really prepared to enter a real relationship, but it was exciting, I think for both of us, to play with the idea of being together. Now she has fallen in love for real with another man, and I have stepped aside. We still keep some friendly contact, and I keep sending her bits of a silly story I was writing about a resourceful mymble (her) and a bumbling crow (me). I’m happy for her, but I couldn’t help being a bit sad for myself, even though I knew this couldn’t go on forever. And now you’ve posted the words that made it all made sense. Thank you.

    And yeah, I’m probably going to die alone. Nbd.

  23. Earlier this month my oldest son bought (Bought!) lunch for his grandpa and me. He just moved out of the house this last July and I remember thinking at the time that things have come a long way. The journey has been interesting and is far from over, I look forward to the rest.

  24. Thank you for this, John, I really needed it. It’s early and chilly here in Oz right now, and this was the perfect little read with my morning coffee. Thank you again.

  25. It’s all beautiful and nothing lasts.

    I thought “Vonnegut!” immediately, but couldn’t think where. Slaughterhouse-Five, of course. In my experience, he says things that stick deep in your mind and pop up later.

    “I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.”

    “Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

    “Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.”

    “She was a dull person, but a sensational invitation to make babies.”

    “You were sick, but now you’re well again, and there’s work to do.”

    “True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”

    “I have this disease late at night sometimes, involving alcohol and the telephone. I get drunk, and I drive my wife away with a breath like mustard gas and roses.”

    “Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.”

    “He had a tremendous wang, incidentally. You never know who’ ll get one.”

    “And Tralfamadorians don’t see human beings as two-legged creatures, either. They see them as great millipedes – with babies’ legs on one nds and old people’s legs at the other”

    Here are 65 pages of them:

    I once sat on a sofa between Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer, drinking sherry. I was 18.

  26. I’ve never posted here before, but this post inspired me to unlurk. Thanks for the wonderful post. My wife and I are probably going to move cross-country in a couple of years to start new careers, and it’s scary and exciting and strange. Thanks for the right words at the right time.

  27. A friend got engaged a few weeks ago and found out her fiance (working on another continent) was dead last week. Your statement is painfully apropos.

  28. Sunday Morning by Wallace Stevens — “Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,/Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams/And our desires.” There’s more, of course; this phrase comes from about the middle of the poem.

    In facing the mortality of one’s parents, therefore one’s own, it is a reminder that this minute, right now, isn’t going to last, and that’s okay.

  29. A coworker of mine died young and suddenly yesterday. Didnt know her too well but has bugged me all day. Now your post. I wish i could be so philosophical , honest and fearless in the face of my own mortality as you. You are sounding like a Self Actualized fellow to me……i envy that.

  30. We are eternal; all this pain is an illusion.

    — Tool, _Parabola_

    Even if I am eternal (which I doubt) it’s still miraculous that I am here and now and with the faculties to understand what “here” and “now” are, let alone anything else.

    That’s enough for me.

  31. I watched the Eva Cassidy video. Very pretty song. It reminds me of how the masks drop from ones persona when playing a musical instrument. The eyes open wide for all to see and what they see is true. That alone is worth the price of admission, amigo.

  32. “When I remember bygone days
    I think how evening follows morn;
    So many I loved were not yet dead,
    So many I love were not yet born. ” –Ogden Nash

  33. This time last year I had a mother with whom I could speak.

    This time last year I could walk without a limp.

    This time last year my guitar hung on its hook, dusty and unused.

    This time last year my daughter couldn’t tie her own shoes.

    And next year?

    Bad happens. Good happens.

    Anger happens. Love happens.

    All I can do is struggle to remember that life is not a game of sums. To remember that coping with the bad and celebrating the good is…….life. Just that and nothing more.

  34. Reminds me of my favorite Neil Gaiman quote (I actually got a tattoo of it and I’m not really a tattoo person): “It always ends. That’s what gives it value.”

  35. Mono no aware; lacrimae rerum; things we’ve always known, and that everyone has to find out for themselves.

    The world of dew
    Is, yes, a world of dew
    But even so…

  36. And New Model Army, criminally underrated band from Bradford (England, not OH), have had similar thoughts. and well worth the listen, I might add.

    The chorus:
    Everything is beautiful
    Because everything is dying

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