This Too Shall Pass

Sometimes life shits on you.

I don’t think there’s anyone alive today that could tell you that their life has been perfect since day one, and they have never gone through hard times. In fact, I would guess that that’s almost impossible. Even a 5 year old is gonna remember the time mom didn’t let him have a cookie after lunch. To his 5 year old brain, his life sucked at that moment. Granted a life where the worst thing that’s going on is your lack of cookies wouldn’t be that bad, I’m just trying to make the point that even though their lives from an adult’s point of view is fuckin’ awesome, (Seriously though, if I could go back to being a kid again and not have any idea what the word “rent” meant, I would definitely do that) a child still goes through hard times. If asked if their life has ever been not great, they would usually have answers to that. That perspective comparison is true for everyone. My hardships have been nothing compared to that of say…someone who lost their parents when they were young, but it doesn’t mean my life was easy either. So someone’s perception of hard times might be different than someone else’s, but if they perceive them as hard times, then they are, in fact, hard times. Right?

So now that we’ve agreed that everyone has gone through some unfortunate circumstances in their life at some point, what helps us get through them? There are a lot of different things that one could say to help a friend in need, but I know that I personally have heard one phrase(or variations of it) more often than any others when dealing with a bad situation:

This Too Shall Pass

“It’ll get better.”
“Shit’ll buff out.”
“This too shall pass”.
Giving someone hope that the bad times will be followed by better times is a surefire way to help them get through it. It’s a very psychologically sound idea. Hope is powerful (which is why all societies have formed religion in my opinion). All of these phrases do just that…instill hope that better days are ahead, but do all of these phrases really mean the same thing? Until recently I would have said that yes, they do. Then I happened upon the origin of the phrase “This Too Shall Pass” and it changed my mind.

There are a couple versions of the story floating around. Whether the origin is from Persian poets or Jewish Folklore, they all have the same message and meaning and general setup. I’ll give you the one that I like the most:

So there was this guy. He was the ruler of pretty much everything. He had it all. Money. Power. A bomb ass wife. Sexy ass mistresses. Probably the best drugs in the land. He’s living a life of hedonism that would make the Greeks blush. Now one day while he was bathing in gold coins for funsies, he calls in his best adviser. And he tells him: “Dude, I’m awesome. I’m like…THE BEST person in the world. My life is amazing, I mean have you seen my wife? And I’m literally bathing in coins right now dude. Have you ever felt Gold on your balls? It’s pretty awesome. What else could I want?” His adviser, who is really just his homie Kurt who needed a job, looks at him wisely and says, “Bling”. So the ruler agrees. And says he wants a ring. He tasks Kurt to engrave the ring with something that will make him happy when he’s sad, and keep him from being an asshole when things were good. Because he’s got a good heart or something. Kurt comes back with this disgustingly gaudy ring, which leader homie loves of course, with the engraving, “This, too, shall pass.”

Okay so that’s not quite how the story that I read went, but you get the idea. Depending on the story the ruler either wanted something that will be true in all situations, or more specifically is looking for something to make him happy when he’s sad and sad when he’s happy. Either way, the meaning of the phrase is now clear. It isn’t just a testament of hope to those in bad times, but a warning to those in good times. So the phrase can still be used to help people through bad times, but could also be used to ground and humble someone who is doing well. But why don’t we ever see it used that way?

It could very well be simply that no one knows the real meaning of it. Our language is littered with misused adages and phrases. Take the phrase, “Blood is thicker than water.” Which actually means the opposite of what people think. The full phrase is “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb” meaning that the bonds chosen (friends) are greater than bonds that are forced (family). So it’s very possible that most people are just oblivious to the origin. On the other hand, people typically seek help and guidance during bad times. Not good times. So even if someone did know the true meaning, they probably wouldn’t ever get a chance to use it in the negative sense (good times will also pass). I don’t think saying “This too shall pass” would be a very popular comment on your friend’s engagement announcement on Facebook, right?

In searching for a picture to use for this post, I was surprised by the lack of images playing off the duality of the phrase, but maybe that just means less people know the true meaning than I thought! If I was at all artistically talented I might try something. If any of you artistic people take a cue from this article and make an awesome “This Too Shall Pass” picture be sure to let me know about it!

It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction.
– Abraham Lincoln

Even good old Honest Abe himself saw the beauty in the phrase. He understood it as not only something to help get through the bad times, but also a reminder to cherish the good.

Maybe you had a hard day at work, but in a few hours you get to go home to a roof over your head, food in your refrigerator, and if you’re lucky someone in your bed that loves you. But also always be humble and grateful for what you have. I know from experience, taking something or someone for granted is one of the worst feelings, and you really will always regret not taking full advantage of the time you had.

So just remember that when things are bad, they WILL get better. And that when things are going great, bad times could be ahead. So you have to appreciate what you have while you have it, and treat everything as if the next day it could be gone. Stay the extra 5 minutes in bed with your spouse. Go to that extra baseball game with your kid. Go out to lunch with your parents. Talk to that girl at the coffee shop. Chase your dreams. Don’t be lying on your deathbed with “What Ifs” and “I Wishes”.

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