The thought of writing about this topic, #1 of the “43 Eternal Truths,” has been plaguing me since I decided to do it. No inspiration. No insight. Just confusion, that dull, awful feeling when the gears in your brain keep getting stuck at the same place, over and over. The dilemma was this: I feel that I should agree with the statement, “This is it!” because what it seems to be saying are things like, “This is your life! Be here now! Moments are all we have!” And that’s fine. That’s good. I get it.
But in my heart, I don’t actually agree that this is IT, that this is all we get or have. And I don’t agree with the message that you shouldn’t hold onto things, or project into the future, or care too much about outcomes, or that living in the present is the ultimate goal.
I am a big advocate of mindfulness, of presence, of paying attention.
However, wrestling with these three little words–this is it–has made me realize that I am also an advocate of allowing ourselves to live in the past, present, future, or our own imaginations, to project whatever desires we want onto our lives, to be strongly attached to whatever really, really matters to us, to care as much as we possibly can about whatever we want, knowing of course that none of this guarantees anything. Anything, that is, except a life of deep passion and commitment, self-permission and the chance to let your longing and desire become visible enough, powerful enough, that you cannot help but follow it.
One of my sons announced to me that he had recently “asked someone out.” He reported this while making himself a turkey sandwich at the counter in the kitchen. I had to grab onto the counter for support. “What did you just say?” I asked. “I asked someone out. To the movies. She said ‘No.'” He added some chips to his sandwich, and tried to sidle out of the room. A thousand thoughts went through my head–“Shouldn’t he have asked us first? On what planet is he old enough for this? What mother in her right mind would let her daughter go out with a boy at this age? Would he have paid for her movie ticket? Her snacks? Tried to put his arm around her? Why did she say no? Isn’t he good enough for her??”
I am not prepared to have this experience, nor any of the experiences related to this experience. But apparently he is. “Well, so what’s your plan?” I asked him before he could get away, knowing that he would have one, and that it would be better to hear it sooner rather than later. He set his plate down. “My plan is to ask her again at the end of the school year, and then if she says no again, I’m going to ask her why.” “I’m proud of you for having the courage to ask her,” I said. “That’s what I thought, too,” he said, picked up his plate, and walked away.
I am not prepared to have this experience, but will be having it anyway. So what does it have to do with the topic of “this is it?” Two things. The first is that when you have kids, your life is all about the outcome–how are they going to turn out? Are you doing a good enough job with them? Are they going to be be prepared to live as functional and decent people in the world? You are constantly focused on the future, which is absolutely appropriate because that is your JOB. You are growing someone up.
And yes, of course, this mode of thinking can get in the way of being fully present, but it’s a mode you must operate in because, bottom line, that’s what it takes to get someone from being an embryo to being able to drive a car and earn their own money–tending, planning, protecting, saving, teaching, directing, praying, hoping, wanting.
But the second way that this story relates to the topic of “this is it” is that at the same time that I am doing all of the things listed above, I am also really, really wanting my sons to wake up to the awareness that THIS is their life. I want them to pay attention, take the chance, make the mistake, get hurt and get well again, ask the girl out and if she says no, ask again.
But here’s the thing–it doesn’t matter what I want. This is their life. And they are waiting, too. They are growing themselves up, and all the good stuff seems to be far away in some distant future. They are imagining, hoping, dreaming, wanting, planning, saving, becoming attached and getting disappointed, becoming attached and being pulled on out into whatever is waiting for them. And that’s absolutely fine.
In the end, my problem with the “This is it” statement is that it inspires a little bit of a scarcity mentality–it makes me catch my breath, to look around really fast to make sure I haven’t missed anything, that nothing is slipping by. I suspect it is actually supposed to inspire exactly the opposite reaction, but that’s how it is for me. We may only have moments, but we have this moment, all of the ones that came before, all of the ones we visit in our imaginations, and all of the ones that are still to come. That’s a lot of moments. That’s a lot of “it.” And we can touch all of it, gather all of it, live all of it.
The “poem” I really wanted to share with you is the entire last chapter of Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood in which she talks about memory, and how we become who we are, how we connect the “dim dots” of who we were in past moments with who we are in our present moment. But it’s too long. Just know that she says that we must take it on faith that all of those “dots” were contiguous, coherent, connected. That all of our memories, the “multiform and variously lighted latitudes and longitudes were part of one world,” that we don’t exist chopped up in little, disconnected pieces. That all of “it” matters–what went before, what is now, and what will be.
“[I]t is not you or I that is important….What is important is anyone’s coming awake and discovering a place, finding in full orbit a spinning globe one can lean over, catch and jump on. What is important is the moment of opening a life and feeling it touch–with an electric hiss and cry–this speckled mineral sphere, our present world” (An American Childhood, 248-9).