Progress is a good thing, but not the best of things. The best things are timeless things, because though they may not bring us change, they bring us peace…
A month before we move, I give in to the sentimental thing at the center of me, and I spend a day touring our old haunts in the suburbs—the claustrophobic apartment in which we spent our first lean and tumultuous year in Chicago, the town surrounding it where we lived and loved and laughed and fought, the little townhouse we bought a couple of towns over, a sequence of daycares and restaurants and parks and the nooks and crannies of several different suburbs. I’m planning to see these old familiar places and then let go of them with a tear or two.
But it doesn’t happen.
Instead, I’m confronted again and again with how much changes in a decade. Buildings have been torn down, trees cut down, and businesses shut down. Very little remains the same. In a way, the trip serves its purpose: it helps me let go by reminding me the things to which I’m attached are already mostly gone. Yet, it gives me something new to grieve.
I grieve the death of timeless things.
It’s the creation of products that will quickly be outdated, thus requiring us to constantly buy new things. It’s an economic strategy and a way of life we’ve all quickly begun taking for granted. We have an iPhone 4. It still looks as good as new and remains a brilliant piece of technology, but repeated software updates have turned it into just another shiny piece of glass and metal.
When it comes to technology, even our most reliable stuff is dust in the wind.
We are being socialized into an expectation of transience and temporariness. When we’re not trading in our stuff, we’re updating it—downloading the newest operating system or the most recent version of the app. This urge arises out of our very good desire for progress. But it has at least one very insidious drawback:
When you’re planning to let go of everything, you can’t settle into anything.
It makes peacefulness awfully hard to find.
Look Up, Look Around
Two weeks before we move, I find my feet in the sand on the beaches of Delaware. I’m reading a book on an iPad that barely works anymore, not because it’s broken, but because it can’t keep up with the accelerating pace of data. I’m cursing planned obsolescence and the death of timeless things when, out of the corner of my ear, I hear a sea gull.
I look up.
Sea gulls are squawking and swooping for stray French fries, as they’ve instinctively done for generations.
I look around.
The beach is packed with people, and almost no one is staring at a device. Some people lie face down, stretched out on beach towels, eyes closed, soaking up rays. Most people sit beneath umbrellas, trying to escape those same rays, gazing at the waves and the line on the horizon—we sit at the edge of the land and years can’t dissipate the awe we feel. Waves slap reliably at the shore, as they’ve done for millennia. Kids laugh in the waves and there’s a kernel of the eternal in their joy.
I’m not sure any of this is exactly timeless, but it’s awfully close.
I settle into it, and a peace comes over me.
The next morning, I cross one off my bucket list and wake my boys in the dark to see the sun rise over the ocean. Its red hot curve crests the cool blue expanse and the words of a Bruce Cockburn song come to mind: “Suns up, it’s okay, the world survives into another day.” My boys look at me and tell me this timeless thing is their favorite moment of the vacation.
A peace comes over them.
Their eyes are bright, lit by a timeless kind of joy.
The Most Timeless Thing of All
Once we awaken to the timeless things around us, it’s hard not to see them.
The centuries-beaten sand on the shore. The rustling dance of leaves in the trees. Fog enshrouding an early-morning field, its green turned to gray in the embrace. Wildflowers and weeds and the way timelessness erases the distinction between the two. Rivers running, constantly running, and, in the distance, the splash of a fish leaping for food.
A peace comes over us.
The sweet anguish of childbirth, and the bittersweet anguish of death and all the moments in between. A family coming together to break bread. The relief of being touched. The comfort of being seen and known and belonging. The ache of parting and the grief of saying goodbye. Every timeless thing we we carry in our hearts—all the wounds and redemption and disappointments and glory and sorrow and joy. The infinitely valuable and equally important arc of every life.
A peace comes over us.
Planned obsolescence is a real thing. But if there are degrees of real, timelessness is more real. And it’s more pervasive. Timeless things are everywhere, if we decide to look up and look around. Which means peace is everywhere, too. And everywhen.
Peace does not go obsolete.
Peace is, after all, the most timeless thing of all.
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