In many storytelling traditions there is a similar story. The oldest version I could find is from a Jewish story and it’s about King Solomon. In it, a Solomon asks for a magical ring he has heard of. When it is put on, it has the power to make a sad man happy and a happy man sad. His advisor goes out in search of it and finally comes back with what he says is the treasure he is looking for. It is a simple silver ring and on it is a short inscription:
“This too shall pass.”
A sad person putting it on can read it and think that whatever the situation is that is making them sad will eventually be over and he’s given hope. But when a happy person puts the same ring on and reads the inscription he realizes that everything around him that is making him happy will some day be no more.
Friday this story is very much on my mind. In the morning I received some sad news. An older gentleman I met on my trip to India had passed. When I met him he talked about his life. Before partition he lived in Punjab in what is now Pakistan. In 1947, when he was only 16, everything changed. A mob of people was outside his family’s home and it looked as if they would all be killed. Fortunately, though, they were able to flee the village with only the clothes on their back, traveling at night and hiding during the day until they reached India. Everything else from their previous life was left behind. When he got to India he had to start over from zero. 72 years later, in Chhattisgarh, though, he was living with a large extended family in a nice home. In the midst of a pandemic and a chaotic time in history I keep thinking about the difference between what this man felt at age 16 and how it must have seemed that there was no way out and life would be forever changed for the worse. In many ways it makes me think of our current world situation on many fronts. I wonder how he viewed the pandemic. Having seen what looked like the worst possible situation eventually resolved, what were his expectations for the pandemic? This too shall pass?
In the afternoon my work is done and it is time to reward myself with some exercise. Today is a bike day so I unlock my bike and head out. It is sunny and beautiful and I think the quality of light looks just like it does on a cold winter day. Everything appears to be in extra-sharp focus. I think this is because of the reduced pollution levels. In the winter smog levels are low so there’s less light diffusion from humidity and particulates from cars, trucks, trains and airplanes.
I turn down Bayview, a street normally so busy I avoid it at all costs. Today, though, “rush hour” has a fraction of the traffic. And so, I turn down the hill in to the Don Valley and am rewarded with a 60 km/hr descent.
In the 1900’s, Toronto was nicknamed “The Big Smoke”. There was so much industry here that pollution levels were awful. The Don River was lined with paper mills, factories, and among them was the Toronto Brick Works. You can still see buildings made from bricks made here. And no doubt the Leslie Spit is also made of many of these bricks, built in to buildings then demolished and turned in to a habitat for birds and animals.
Here is what the Brickworks looked like back in the day. You can see the kilns themselves along with a large quarry where clay and shale for making the bricks were dug from.
A few things conspired to change this. First, in 1954, Hurricane Hazel hit Ontario very hard, causing flooding and destruction along the Don River and the Humber river on the other side. Many destroyed buildings were not rebuilt. The economy changed also, and by the 1980’s the brickworks was closed.
The quarry had already been filled in some since the 1940’s, in great part with trash as the space was a city dump for some time. And then in 1994 a decision was made to restore the site. The quarry was further filled in with debris from the building of the Scotia Plaza tower downtown. And now, the site in the photo above looks like this:
Now the space is mostly park land with bicycle trails leading all around the quarry site which you can see is a lovely lotus pond. On Saturdays there is a farmer’s market there and there are a few businesses and conference spaces in the former brickworks buildings. Though there are a good number of people socially distancing there today, in the times before the pandemic you could often see a large crowd there.
One message you could take away from this can be found on the side of one of the buildings:
Another message you can take away? “This too shall pass.”
Of course one reason I came was to visit the Chorley Park switchback trail. I might be an unusual cyclist in that I actually enjoy hills, and switchbacks are particularly fun. So while the Brickworks was beautiful to see, what I really came for were the switchbacks. They were a bit easier than I expected – not as difficult as the ones that go up the Niagara Escarpment or even the ones on the Finch Hydro Corridor – but lovely nonetheless. I wasn’t able to get a good photo but fortunately there are several to be found here along with more about other great places to ride in Toronto.
At the top I reached Chorley Park. Though it’s a relatively small park compared to many others in the city it is peaceful and well-used.
But like the brickworks, this was once a different place as well for this was the location of Chorley Mansion.
This was once the home of Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor – the representative of the Queen in Ontario’s government. While a beautiful home there was a lot of criticism over cost overruns in building it. In the 30’s, Mitchell Hepburn campaigned for the Premier’s seat and part of his platform was to close Chorley Mansion, saying the heating bills and upkeep were too much. In 1937, after winning the election, he closed the mansion and cut funding. Even when King George VI paid Ontario a visit in 1939 he refused to spend even a little money to do renovations before his arrival.
In 1940 it became a rest home for soldiers, and had other roles after that including an administration building for the RCMP and a home for Hungarian refugees. But in the end, in 1959, the city acquired it and determining that it would cost too much to restore, demolished it. And now there is a park that benefits anyone in the public who wants to spend time there.
This too shall pass.
And in my own life there were so many moments for which this statement works:
Living with alcoholic parents? “This too shall pass.”
Lost your job? “This too shall pass.”
Thrilled to see Barack Obama win the election? “This too shall pass.”
Loving cycling solo through India? “This too shall pass.”
Struggling to figure out how to live in a yurt in the woods? “This too shall pass.”
Enjoying living in a yurt and spending all day with your family? “This too shall pass.”
So what to do with this information? If we bear this in mind won’t we never be happy because the minute we notice how happy we are we simply remind ourselves that eventually it will be gone?
I remember when I was a kid and would have days where I was really happy, having lots of fun, laughing and enjoying myself. My mom would notice this and tell me “Yes, well, enjoy this, you’ll be crying eventually.” It sounds terribly mean to tell a kid this but I forgive her. Looking back from her later bipolar disorder diagnosis, I can see this was meant to be advice. Her own “This too shall pass.” if you will.
I’d love to end this with a clear “Do this and it will all work out perfectly. This is how you live your life.” But the truth is, I’m pretty sure I know the answer but I also know enough to tell you that it isn’t something that will instantly fix things. It’s not like being lost on the way to a tourist site and then having someone draw you a map. It’s more like wanting to run a marathon and having someone hand you a long term training plan. Sure, it’s possible, but you’re going to have to work at it. And that includes me – I’m definitely not there yet either. Have you guessed the answer yet?
This moment you’re in right now. Appreciate it. And when that’s over, appreciate the next one. Repeat.