Anicca: Impermanence, Uncertainty, Change, Transcience by Robert Beatty, November 2002

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Thus should you look upon this changing world.
All component things are impermanent.
All component things are subject to dissolution.
See all of this world
As a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightening in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom and a dream
The Buddha

Loudspeaker trucks went through the village of Sayulita last evening telling the Mexican villagers living near sea level to evacuate. Busloads of people carrying a few precious belongings left from the town square. Perhaps we should have fled as well, had we understood the danger. We arrived for our first night in Sayulita too late in the evening to hear the full report. Nancy and I were told a hurricane was headed toward the coast, but no one knew if or where it would hit shore. We joined a handful of people making last minute trips to the store to buy tortillas, eggs, candles, coffee, canned tuna and vegetables.

In a little market where we shopped, the stony, tightlipped, thirty-five year old woman behind the counter told us we owed 225 pesos. In Spanish Nancy asked what she knew of the storm. “I am not sure, but it is going to be very bad,” she said.

“I guess we will know tomorrow."

With an ashen face the woman replied, “If we are alive."

We are taking refuge in a bungalow on a steep hillside above the ocean. We came to Mexico so I could perform a wedding on the beach tomorrow. It is ten a.m. and the morning light has vanished. The air which has been humid and lifeless for twelve hours is suddenly ferocious and wild. Blasts of wind thrash palm trees and the air fills with branches and debris from the ground. The brass deadbolts on the French doors have shallow insertion points that render them more decorative than functional. We consider the worst. If the squall slams through our windows we’ll be driven to huddle against the interior rock wall of the bungalow. The shower stall, surrounded entirely by thick stone walls emerges in our minds as a possible sanctuary from flying glass. Perhaps we should already be there. Water alternately sucks under the doors or is drawn out by changes in air pressure. The thud of a door somewhere is followed by the smashing of glass on the tile terrace above our bungalow. The thrashing ocean, about 100 feet below us appears out of the sheets of driven rain and fog. Huge waves roll in from the Southwest, chopped from the North by competing wave trains. As they break, the wind tears off their tops, dragging long streamers of white spray back out to sea. A beleaguered black bird with a yellow beak and bright yellow eyes clings to the railing outside in the lee of our building. Crouching with each gust, it can just  barely hold on. During a lull it drops and dives into the bushes below the terrace.

After several hours the rain and winds cease. We emerge to pick our way through plant debris and garbage flung everywhere. We find a world of shredded trees, fallen walls and wreckage. Palm trees are missing their south facing branches. A nearby house has lost half of its palapa roof. Two doors away, at the top of the ridge, a giant Huanacaxtle tree with white branches three feet in diameter, has crashed onto a stucco and tile-roofed dwelling. The tree’s shallow root system spreads into the air like a giant fan twenty feet high. The snapping roots overturned a large white propane tank, leaving the gas pipe pointing out to sea. A neighbor stands nearby with a cell phone, trying to notify the owner of the house.

We walk silently through the abandoned village. Streets that hours before had been relatively tidy, are strewn with the rubble of brick walls, roof tiles and palm fronds. It is eerie to walk through streets where typically families sit in doorways, groups of men chat, and children play. Now there are only small groups of police in pickup trucks and shuttered homes.

The Buddha taught that all conditioned phenomena are anicca: impermanent, unpredictable, unstable, unreliable, transient and subject to change. A journey to Mexico to perform a beach wedding became one of surviving Hurricane Kenna. We found out after the storm that the evacuation order was intended to include us as well. A few miles to the south a 30-foot storm surge of seawater lifted chunks of concrete and multi-ton bronze statues from the cement sea wall and smashed them through the waterfront buildings of Puerto Vallarta. To the north, the village of San Blas was devastated. Houses and commercial buildings were demolished by 160 mile an hour winds. We suffered no damage or injury. Had the storm turned and come upon us from the North, rather than over the protective mountain of Punta de Mita, the outcome could have been radically different. Our soft, sensitive, vulnerable bodies offer no guarantees that we will be alive from one day to the next. One way or another, before long, our lease upon them will expire. Everyone and everything is on loan. Once again we are reminded of this truth: All component things are impermanent.