Living in the moment has always been difficult for me. I’m either obsessed with the past (once more from the top, I wrote a book that takes place in 1989) or worrying about the future. If I had to break it down into random percentages, which is a trait an ex-girlfriend found both annoying and fascinating, I’m about 80/20, with 80% being obsessed with the past and 20% worried about the future. My father noticed this before I did and would often compare me unfavorably to one of my friends who had a much better time living in the moment. My friend was always concerned about what was going on right now. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Today.
Perhaps the best example of this was during a rainy playdate in the late ‘80s. Forced inside because of the bad weather, which wasn’t a problem for me but I could tell annoyed my more athletic friend, we spent the afternoon in his small bedroom playing with various plastic playthings. When we got bored of that, he suggested whipping out his magic kit and putting on a show.
“I don’t want to do that,” I told him, for no good reason.
“Why not?” he asked.
“Because I just don’t,” I stubbornly answered, still unsure myself as to why. “I’m going home.”
I expected him to get upset and argue with me, but instead, he calmly shrugged his shoulders and said, “Okay.” His nonchalant reaction threw me, so I quickly hurried down the stairs to put on my shoes in a side room by the front door. (His family always insisted on visitors taking off their shoes, which I thought was an odd practice at the time when I now religiously do the same.) As I was tying up my sneakers, I heard his mother on the phone in the adjacent kitchen. Then my friend came down the stairs.
“Who are you talking to?” he asked her.
“Your uncle,” she answered.
“Oh, I wanted to tell him something. Give me the phone when you’re done.”
“Where’s Michael?” she asked.
“He went home,” he replied. She had no follow-up questions, as if it was a nonevent, which, in retrospect, maybe it was, but I was an overly sensitive kid (and still am a pretty sensitive man), and her nonchalance that mirrored her son’s practically disgusted me. Didn’t either of them care?
It then hit me: They didn’t even realize I hadn’t left yet. I had a few choices. I could announce my presence, apologize to my friend, and go back upstairs to play with his magic show, or I could attempt to quietly sneak out the front door when they weren’t looking like an oversized ninja. In the end, my stubbornness defeated my cowardice, and I snuck out the door. On the way out though, I accidentally shut the door a little too hard, almost slamming it. I was sure they heard me now and wondered if they thought it odd that I was eavesdropping on their conversation and didn’t even correct my friend when he mistakenly thought I already left.
On the walk home (I lived only around the corner), I remember how upset I was at my friend not being upset. Not to sound like we were going steady, but I wanted him to fight for me and our friendship. I wanted him to yell and say, “C’mon, man! Let’s do something!” when I turned his magic show down. Instead, he completely and unapologetically accepted it and was done with me. What’s more, he had already moved on to the next thing: a phone call with his uncle. That was the hot, new thing to do. He was living in the moment; I was already ancient history.
Memory is funny in how we don’t remember what we were wearing or what we exactly said or even what we did, but we always remember how we felt. I remember feeling expendable, though I didn’t know the word at the time. I did know the definition of the word “worthless,” though, and that’s how I felt: worthless. My friend merely wanted my friendship; being only a few years after my brother passed, I needed his.
If I could change one thing about myself, it would be to stop obsessing over the past and dreading the future, to live in the moment and truly embrace the day. I’m reminded of the refrain from “RENT,” my favorite musical of the ‘90s: “No day but today,” which in my middle age is a sentiment that now sounds corny and trite but is no less true. To put it another way: “Carpe diem,” or, just in case you haven’t heard this phrase a thousand times before, “Seize the day.” (As I used to pretentiously say in college, “Be the day, and the day will be for you.”) This is not just to parrot a famous line from “Dead Poets Society” but to actually feel it in your bones. This was the philosophy of the show “How I Met Your Mother,” which preached about a so-called “future nostalgia.” Your “good ol’ days” are now, so embrace them while you still can.
Last month on my birthday, I went to a fancy restaurant by the water with my family. My young daughters were getting impatient waiting for their meals, so I took them for a little walk outside around the waterfront. As we were gazing at the water, a large, beautiful swan swam up to us and peered up expectantly. “Hold on,” I said and went back inside the restaurant. I returned with an uneaten dinner roll from our table. After breaking it into bits, I handed the pieces to my two children, and they excitedly threw them one by one into the water. The swan happily gobbled up the pieces, splashing about almost in a dance. I thought to myself, “This is nice.” It wasn’t spectacular, but it was what I needed that day. I was living in the moment. One swan dance at a time.
P.S.: Sign up for blog updates, and get a free book! Enter your email address in the opt-in box at the bottom of the Blog/FREE Book page, and click “Sign Up.” Once you do that, you’ll be automatically sent an email to confirm your email address. After you confirm it, you’ll be sent a free PDF of Lists, Life, and Other Unimportant Details, an over 270-paged collection of my best blogs and published articles over the past 25 years. Also, here’s another gentle reminder that if you simply “followed” my blog without entering your email address in my opt-in box described above, you won’t receive the free book. Without your address, I have no way of sending it to you.
P.P.S.: To all my email subscribers, I’ve noticed that the blogs you receive in your emails are missing the formatting (italics, bold, etc.), so for the best experience of reading my blogs, I would just click on the title of the blog in the email, which will bring you to this site with all the proper formatting.
P.P.P.S.: Next week’s blog: A Writing Memory