“Were you to live three thousand years, or even a countless multiple of that, keep in mind that no one ever loses a life other than the one they are living, and no one ever lives a life other than the one they are losing. The longest and the shortest life, then, amount to the same, for the present moment lasts the same for all and is all anyone possesses. No one can lose either the past or the future, for how can someone be deprived of what’s not theirs?”
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.14
When you are born, your life begins with an inhale. Your life, conversely, will end with an exhale, as your last breath leaves the body. Every breath in between makes up the moments of your life. Ryan Holiday, in his book, The Daily Stoic, has this to say: “This present is in our possession – but it has an expiration date, a quickly approaching one. If you enjoy all of it, it will be enough. It can last a whole lifetime.”
In the practice of mindfulness meditation, the practitioner is instructed to bring his or her awareness to the body; to the breath. To observe, absent judgement, the way the air feels entering and exiting the body. The concept is to train the practitioner to just BE in the present. To feel the weight of their body pressing into the floor. To be an observer of themselves and the various thoughts that pass through the unconscious and conscious mind, making no judgments about any of it. To simply BE in the moment.
Understanding how finite life is, is one aspect of cultivating gratitude for the moments that make up your life. As a parent, the singular point of advice offered by parents of older children is not to take a second of your child’s years for granted, because they go by so, so fast. This is advice that I pray I will one day give my children, not rooted in regret, by joyful recollection of the many moments we were present together, enjoying each moment as though it were our last. Each day; each stage of their development. Grateful for the time we’ve shared. Untethered from an attachment to a past filled with regret and a future full of anxiety, anticipation, and uncertainty. Fully enjoying the moment. The laughter. The life we have built together.
It is in fully immersing yourself in the present moment that gratitude for that moment becomes possible. And, material possessions and concerns outside of your control are no longer taskmasters competing for your attention, and, ultimately, your servitude. Right now, my boys love to be with me. They are excited when I pick them up from school, and they won’t let me leave until they’ve given me a hug and told me they love me, when dropping them off. I know that won’t always be the case, though, and all too soon, they’ll be asking me to drop them off around the corner so their friends don’t see them being driven to school by their dad, and jumping out of the car even before it has come to a full stop. But that is tomorrow’s problems. Today, I will enjoy every hug and every, I love you, dad.
Today, I will enjoy the aches in my back and the tightening in my knees from hours of putting together a Lego set on the floor that will likely be broken again in about as many hours. Why? Because they wanted their dad to be the one to build it with them. No one else. And, one day, that will no longer happen. One day they will move out of my house and leave me surrounded by silence. No one running through the living room with an overfilled glass of milk to get back to an argument over the Xbox controller. No one popping the buttons off my leather sofa or making all the photos hang crooked on the walls, jostled about by wrestling on the carpet. As much as I don’t want that day to come, because it means they are all grown up, it would be far worse if they never moved out of the house; never went to college; never started their own families. So, I will be happy that they lived long enough to leave me to figure out what life looks like without them under my roof. It scares me. But I can’t let tomorrow’s fears rob me of the present moment, when my nearly five-year-old boys practically knock me off my feet rushing to greet me in the morning.
This year I will turn 40. By all rights, best case scenario, I will live to see 70. That means I will never live to see my boys turn the age I am right now. But if God sees fit to grant me life well into my 70’s, 80’s or beyond, I pray that I don’t spend those last year’s attempting to make up for the time I wasted this year on Netflix and YouTube. Or watching the Las Vegas Raiders waste another season, finishing second or third in their division. I don’t have time to watch a mediocre team. Not when I’m trying to be a Super Bowl caliber dad. And I definitely don’t have time for baseball, unless my kid is holding the bat. Facebook, Instagram, Snap-Chat, Tik-Tok… all these things are designed to take you out of the moments that really matter, monetize your attention, and advertise possessions that you will trade the rest of your time and money to obtain.
What I do have time for is explaining why stars sometimes flicker, why milk can’t be left on the counter overnight, and why the best marshmallows have to be caught on fire for a few seconds before the flame gets blown out. I do have time to teach the importance of tying one’s own shoe, even though Velcro exists, and why taking the time to learn how to tie a half-Windsor, four-in-hand, and prat knot is both important and superior to any clip-on tie money can buy when dressing for your first job interview or school dance. I do have time to make sure there is always clean laundry for by kids to wear to class.
Because those things matter. They matter so much more than whether someone liked your Facebook post or, for that matter, took the time to read this blog. And they’re sure as hell more important that whatever the Kardashians are doing with their plastic, narcissistic existence. C’mon, America! Really? You watched 20 seasons of that garbage?
I rest my case.