ELAYNE RIGGS: Living in the moment
John Lennon once observed, "Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans." And another John, ComicMix‘s own Mr. Ostrander, recently wrote here about a lesson learned (he calls it a "strange gift") in the wake of his wife’s death:
"One of the gifts I got was a deeper understanding of now. That’s what we have — now… now… now. This second. This second. This second. Now. We should never assume we get the next second. Kim realized, at the end, that she hadn’t done all the writing she wanted to do. That she could have done. She found ‘reasons’ but, at the end, none of them were more than excuses. Regret is what you have when you waste the now… Do you have something you want to write? Do it now. Is there something you want to do? Get started now. Is there someone you love? Love them now. It’s what we have; the next second is not promised to anyone."
It’s not right, it’s not fair, but sometimes grief has a way of clarifying ideas you’ve heard before so that you understand them in a new way. And "now" is one of them. I completely "get" this concept in the wake of my father’s death, in a way I didn’t even see it after my best friend Leah passed away. There’s no going back at this point. Leah and I were close for over a decade, but I’d known Dad my entire life. He was one of the two pillars on whom my existence rested for close to 50 years. And now that pillar is gone, and I feel like I’m going to be off-balance and teetering for the rest of my life.
The illusion that, if things got really hard, I could always regress to a time and place where I felt completely safe and protected, where I didn’t have to be a grown-up, is forever shattered. I’ve never been blessed with children, so I can’t even relive my childhood through the eyes of the next generation. I have to be the grown-up all the time now, caught between that which is no longer and that which will never be, while unforgiving time still insists on creeping along in only one direction. My world is nothing but "now"s.
And a large part of me has felt like those precious seconds are being wasted, and that draws me even deeper into the morass of hopelessness.
So here’s the thing I tell myself now, now that it matters: Yes, I want to write. Hell, yes, I’d love to write professionally. But I’m too practical on the one hand, and not courageous enough on the other, to take that step, and that’s okay. One freelancer in the family is enough, and I’m quite fond of a steady paycheck and health insurance. So I write on my blog every day, and here every week, and occasionally I jot down ideas for other stuff I want to get to someday. And I take lots of breaks in between the paragraphs to do other things — the dishes, filing and straightening stuff up, playing computer games, reading comics and blogs. As I say, wasting those seconds, those minutes, those hours.
Or am I?
Nobody can be "on" all the time. If you’re writing for fun as opposed to relying on it for income, even if you consider it a genetic imperative (i.e., you’d burst or go nuts if you didn’t write), you just can’t do it 24/7. You don’t need to be that disciplined, or you lose the sense of fun that drove you to write in the first place.
My computer games keep my mind sharp and my body relaxed. My blog reading keeps me informed about the world outside my window and connected to an amazing variety of brilliant and insightful writers. Housework keeps me physically active and results in a more comfortable living space. Reading and sleeping are absolute joys. I cannot continue to beat myself up any more over the "reasons" I’m not writing, because everything I do in between the writing imperative is also living, also spending the seconds in a way that makes me happy.
One of the most valuable things being married to Robin has taught me is how to slow down, how to be content with doing protracted stretches of nothing in the company of someone you love. How to slow down and savor the moments without always needing to fill them. The moments fill themselves and they all become beautiful in the end.
When we look back, sure, we remember the major events and successes and hope our legacies will outlast our own time spans. But we also recall the little things that, at the time, didn’t seem all that important. The stuff that was happening while we were busy making other plans.
Bits of the past have started to rain on me like pebbles, boring into my "now" and making it hard to remain focused. Bits of the future keep taunting me with glimpses of how alone I’ll eventually be without children and nieces and nephews. But Dickens to the contrary, the more you live in the past or the future rather than the present, the more regrets you’ll have built up, and regrets don’t make for happy recollections. You cannot squander the present by wishing the past were still solid or forever kicking yourself for not achieving something towards the future.
If you’re so keen on looking back in the first place — something we must all do at times because we all need to learn from our pasts — isn’t it the little moments of joy and wonder, as well as the bigger accomplishments, which you’ll wind up treasuring?