This post will differ slightly than some of my others. While my other posts have given a bit of background and context on the etymology of the quote, this quote doesn’t come with a dense philosophical background. I will say that, from my research, it seems to have risen to prominence from a speech by Abraham Lincoln, based on works originally written by Edward Fitzgerald. It seems that the origin of this quote stems from old Jewish Folklore.
So then Practical Philosopher, why talk about a quote that isn’t steeped in philosophical history? Well, for one, it is steeped in my own history and it is my belief it has vast philosophical implications. Secondly, it is the kick off of Mental Health Week here in Canada, and this quote has helped with my own Mental Health.
I stumbled upon this quote some years ago after the passing of my biggest role model, my grandfather. My grandfather was an immigrant from the Caribbean who had an amazing wife, two amazing daughters and became a very successful physician, no easy feat for the best of us, much less for a man of colour in the 1940’s, but I digress.
After his passing, I was sorting through some things that had been willed to me and I came across a small, blank piece of paper no bigger than a business card with one line scribbled on it “This too Shall Pass”. What was the significance of this quote for him to have written it down and kept it for who knows how many years?
Well I started to reflect on the quote and the type of person I knew my grandfather to be, namely a very loving, very caring, very philosophical but also very burdened and worrisome individual (these descriptions sum up your author rather accurately as well too). Naturally, this quote almost instantly became my favourite quote, but aside from the sentimental and nostalgic emotions this quote raises for me, I believe it had far reaching applicability.
I believe the true beauty in this quote comes from its duality in both being extremely simple and extremely complex. It can be uttered at any point in time about anything good or bad and seemingly be true. Not many statements that I’m aware of hold such strength.
Personally, I have dealt with a number of traumatizing events in my life from the more typical (nowadays at least) parental divorce and break-ups to the more atypical including a number of burials of my loved ones from things such as shootings, drowning’s and car accidents, as well as seeing my best friends incarcerated and dealing with my own addiction problems. One thing to remember is that “this too shall pass”.
The universality of this claim has always brought calm into my life because one way or another, if you are suffering, you can be sure that it will pass, even if it is in death itself. Conversely, on a more optimistic note, if you are experiencing extreme happiness, that too will pass, so you better cherish it (see my article on the “Unexamined Life” for more on this topic).
Life and everything we know is temporally finite, whether it be on a scale of decades as is the case for humans or millennia as is the case for planets and stars and even the universe itself, you can believe that it will end.
This scares many people who do not like to think of their own obsolescence, but if, as individuals, you are virtually obsolete on a large skill, isn’t it reassuring to know that you share the same fate as the universe itself!
While my point here is not to delve into the (supposed) meaning of life, I will say that whatever it is, it is yours to own and whatever you are going through good or bad will pass. Hang in there and hope for better days, or if you are in the better days be cognizant and reflect on how it feels and what it means because nothing is forever.
Furthermore, a normative reasoning applied to this quote could act as an imperative to making healthy and morally astute decisions. Something along the lines of “what I ought to do in scenario X, so that when this too shall pass, I am in desired circumstance Y”
This quote can have ramifications both on a personal scale and on a deeper metaphysical scale, but for me it has often helped me through some of the harder times and like many things in life I have my grandfather to thank.
My grandfather lived a great life but towards the end of his life he was very bitter towards the state of humanity. Well don’t worry Grandad as you said this too shall pass and for you it did.