Staying In the Now
I read an essay last night called “Suddenly, They’re All Gone” (published in Tuesday’s New York Times Science section). Written by a journalist reflecting on her years caring for her elderly relatives (her mother, mother-in-law, father-in-law, and aunt), it quickly pulled me in and ultimately made me cry. I was teary for a few reasons…she wrote it with so much love and care and honesty…it made me think about the inevitable aging process that we (thankfully) don’t think of on a regular basis…in a lot of ways, I feared being her some day…and it reminded me of the many, many people my own parents have cared for in their later years, sacrificing their own lives to bring loved ones moments of brightness and joy amidst long days often spent alone.
The essay’s main point is this: when you’re “in it” (or “drowning,” as the author calls it) — dealing with the doctors and the caregivers and the appointments and the logistics of caring for another person — all you can think about sometimes is getting out of it…moving past it…what life might be like when it’s over. But unlike other challenging times (like the terrible two’s, for example), when you’re dealing with someone nearing the end of their life, “getting out of it” doesn’t mean entering a new and beautiful phase that makes it all worth it. It means the end. Rather than growing and expanding, the closing of this chapter leaves a hole.
The author talks about what she misses — namely, being in the moment with the people she cared for. She talks about the joy of bringing simple, physical comfort — similar to cradling a fussy child. She talks about knowing what small things will make someone smile, and doing those things often. And she talks about listening to the stories about the past that seem to come rushing out in people’s later years.
It was this talk of missing that made me cry, both thinking about the people I miss who are no longer with us, but also, the things I miss in my everyday life as my brain darts between past and future, rarely pausing in the present long enough for me to soak it all in. I often find myself in the “when we get through this (i.e., the terrible two’s or a rough patch at work or a tense time in my relationship), it will be better and worth it” mindset. And while admittedly this thinking keeps me sane, it also gets me out of the present…out of the “now.” So this article was a timely reminder that as Jon Kabat-Zinn put it in his talk about Wisdom 2.0, “there will never be another now.” It was the jolt I needed last night to remind to me soak it all up — the beautiful moments and the challenging moments and everything in between.
When is it hard for you to be in the “now,” and what helps you stay in the present moment?