This too shall pass: an adage for Covid, war, politics and life

Quando me perco em indignações ou delírios de imortalidade, me lembro da frase simples, mas sábia e necessária: isso também passará,

When I get lost in indignation or delusions of immortality, I remember the simple but wise and necessary sentence: this too shall pass, (The arm in the photo will not is the columnist’s).| Photo: Playback/ Pinterest

17110407 17110407 Two years ago, and with no other intention than to spread a little of the stoic hope that served as a crutch for me in that situation, I shared the adage “That will also pass” on social media. At a time when people talk about nuclear war, the resumption of sanitary fascism and the PT’s return to power, I thought it was good to rescue the phrase that decorates tattooed and rarely stoic bodies (pardon the prejudice) in its English versions (“This too shall pass ”), in Hebrew (“גַּם זֶה יַעֲבֹר‏”) and in Persian (این نیز بگذرد).

The precise origin of the phrase is unknown. Some attribute it to King Solomon, hence its Hebrew version. In the 19th century, the adage reached the West through a Persian parable retold by the English poet Edward Fitzgerald. The parable tells of a king who asked some wise men to create a ring that would make him happy when he was sad. The sages would have made the ring with the phrase “This too shall pass”. The detail is that the ring also had the power to make the king melancholy when he was, let’s say, excited.

I became aware of the phrase a good twenty years ago. But, in the arrogance that characterizes youth, I took it for “Paulocoelhian wisdom” and ignored it. Folly of fools, it’s all foolishness when you’re young. All the worse if you are led to believe in the superiority of your own intellect, despising the simple and millennial wisdom of so many who were happy here and suffered before returning to the dust.

17110407 I rediscovered “this too shall pass” about ten years ago, in the form of prayer. Locked in a dark room and longing for death, unable to see any way out and staring in the mirror at a pile of dead-end rubble, I kept repeating that all this too would pass, hoping to see my suffering alleviated. But he had no conviction in what he said. Gradually, however, the three words began to guide my posture in good and bad phases. Until they become something natural.

As is typical of the profession and my personality, however, sometimes I go months without realizing that this (and that and that) will pass too. And the next thing I know, I find myself perniciously obsessed with a subject destined to become a footnote in a boring book that no one in the future will read. On these occasions, I learned that I can only wait for the opportunity to stumble across the memory of the phrase that gives us the exact dimension of our smallness, but without humiliating us.

17110407Interestingly, the adage gained popularity in the West after being used by a politician – Abraham Lincoln. Before becoming president of the United States and speaking to a Wisconsin farmers’ association, Lincoln reproduced the phrase, adding that it, while stripping us of our pride, comforted us in our distress.

Good times, those in which the West had leaders with a sober and intelligent sense of the reach of their political projects. Leaders who knew that their actions, however virtuous or wicked, would also pass. How the wars actually passed, giving way to new wars, and pandemics, giving way to other pandemics, and the politicians themselves with their revolutionary ideals, giving way to new politicians and new revolutions and counter-revolutions.

Today I work in a house bathed in light. And I no longer long for the kiss of the Unwanted. Although I get lost in foolish indignations at times, I know that there will always be a way out for them. The same goes for moments of euphoria, when I get lost in delusions of immortality and self-importance that make no sense. This too shall pass. I will pass too. And if the words I record daily survive me, I know they will one day pass too.

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