This morning, on the walk home from school, my daughter suddenly pointed towards the grass and said “Stop! The orange thing!” I spun around, trying to figure out what she was talking about, and finally saw it: a little orange circle that’s part of our backgammon set. She had been playing with it on Friday morning, and I guess she carried it while we walked Indy to school and then dropped it somewhere along the way. It sat there all weekend long, and was still sitting there this morning, waiting to be seen. And my daughter did see it, right away. Not because she was looking “for” anything, or even really “at” anything…she was just looking.
I remember what that felt like, to just look. I miss it so much.
I barely remember anything I learned in the ice-skating classes I took for years and years, but I do remember the precise sound of my blade against the ice, how satisfying it was to hear the scrape build and build and then suddenly go silent when I made a quick stop. When I flip back through my memories like a scrapbook, what pops out at me are moments so small and quiet they almost seem silly: sitting on a dock late at night, watching dots of light on the black water. Laying on the carpet in my grandmother’s apartment – a brown one that smelled like dogs – and spinning a big plastic globe around and around on its axis. Standing in a white shower, inhaling the scent of cucumbers and arugula and wishing everything in my life smelled just like that soap.
All of these memories have something in common: they were moments when I was just there.
I haven’t made one of those memories in a long, long time. I can’t even remember how. All I can think about these days is how I’m missing it, everything. I’m living my life ten steps ahead of where I am, existing in a moment that hasn’t even come to pass yet. When I’m watching my kids ride down the block on their scooters, I’m thinking about the email I have to send and the appointment I have to book. My husband tells me a story about his day and I nod my head and say the things I’m supposed to say, but I’m not really there: I’m already somewhere in the future, getting the next thing done.
“Be mindful.” “Be present.” “Exist in the moment.”
Do you have any idea how tired I am of hearing these things? Of saying them to myself?
Meditate? I KNOW. I know I’m supposed to meditate. I know I’m supposed to turn off my phone, to not check my email once in awhile, to be wherever it is that I am instead of squirreling myself away, burrowing down into a mind overflowing with lists and plans and check marks and favoring what must be done over what is.
I know where my inability to be present comes from, by the way; it’s no mystery to me. Part of it is a byproduct of living in a world where everything moves way too fast, where the flood of information is relentless and overwhelming, where the focus is on documenting experiences rather than actually experiencing them. But the rest of it is a creature of my own making: I am a person who is utterly convinced that if she stops worrying about what’s next, she’ll lose her focus, and everything will slip away.
I want to be present. I can’t do it. And the price I pay for this inability is watching my life go by like a movie I’m only half-paying attention to.
Sometimes, though, there are flashes of what could be, moments that make me remember what it all used to feel like. Yesterday afternoon my daughter wanted me to swim with her, and so we paddled back and forth, me holding her around her waist and saying “kick kick kick” while she paddled furiously, giggling and clutching at me so I knew not to let her go. And then something changed, or clicked, and she put her face down and raised her arms up, and she took off.
All of a sudden she could swim, and once she knew she could she couldn’t stop: she went back and forth, back and forth, from one side of the pool to the other, all by herself. I wanted to see what she looked like when she was swimming, and so I put on my dive mask and exhaled until I was sitting on the floor of the pool, looking up at her little body wiggling through the water, her cheeks puffed out with air, all laser focus and determination. She reached the steps of the pool and poked her head up, but I had some breath still left in me, so I flipped upside down and hung there, listening to the hum of the filter, looking at my feet silhouetted against the surface of the water and the sun and the sky. It was only for a couple of seconds, but for a moment I was just there, watching.