Hold fast, and let go. Can you understand this paradox? If you can understand this paradox, you can be assured that you stand at the very gate of wisdom. The art of living is to know when to hold fast and when to let go. For life is a paradox. It enjoins us to cling to its many gifts even while it ordains their eventual relinquishment. The rabbis of old put it this way: ‘A man comes into this world with his fist clenched, but when he dies, his hand is open’.
We remember something as beautiful when we find that the beauty has faded. We remember an old love when we find that it has waned. But we remember with a far greater pain that we did not see that beauty when it had flowered, and that we had failed to respond with love to love when it was tendered. A recent experience re-taught me this truth. I was hospitalized following a severe heart attack and I was kept in intensive care for several days. It was not at all a pleasant place.
One morning, I had to undergo some additional tests. The required machines were located in a building at the opposite end of the hospital, so I had to be put on a stretcher and wheeled across the courtyard. As we emerged from our unit, the brightness of the sunlight suddenly hit me. That’s all there was to my experience. It was only the light of the sun, and yet, how beautiful it was, how warming, how sparking, how brilliant!
I looked to see whether anyone else also relished the sun’s golden glow, but found that everyone was hurrying to and fro, most of them with their eyes fixed on the ground. Then I remembered how often I, too, had been indifferent to the grandeur of each day, too preoccupied with petty and sometimes even mean concerns to respond to the splendour of it all. The insight gleaned from that experience was really as commonplace as was the experience itself: life’s gifts are precious – but we are too heedless of them. Here then is the first pole of life’s paradoxical demands on us: never be too busy for the wonder and the awe of life. Be reverent before each dawning day. Embrace each hour. Seize each golden minute.