June 3,, 1966 – almost 50 years since I graduated from high school. Next year I’ll have to decide whether I go to a reunion, assuming someone still living in the area will make the plans for that celebration to occur. But this year I can just wax nostalgic. No pressure. Unlike 50 years ago at the end of my junior year when all I could think about was that now I was a senior, now I only had a year to wait for freedom, emancipation, college, adulthood! Remember that feeling? I don’t think humans ever forget their adolescent, hormone-laden, fevered sense of urgency to grow up. And “graduation” is the marker.
By now those of us who have achieved a different “senior” status have learned that life is a series of “waitings” interspersed amid searches for something worth waiting for – a life partner, babies, new home, new job, vacation, lab results, chemo’s (or whatever treatment’s) end, and – finally – death. It’s all a waiting game. No new insight there. Yet, like graduation, we only really give our full attention when it’s our turn, when some gripping marker looms before us and we feel the ancy “are-we-there-yet” vibrations in our core.
As much as we claim to hate waiting, we seem to love anticipation-as-existence. When we are waiting for some desired end, we experience a heightened sense of longing. We fanticize about the coming event sometimes even to the point of anxiety, sleeplessness, or frustration. When life itself doesn’t provide enough stimulation, sometimes we even manufacture our own marker-as-crisis just to make life more interesting. It seems odd to me – lover of tranquility that I am – that I have allowed crazy-maker commitments into my schedule. Yet I have. Often. And perhaps it is this very love of a waiting-for-something-to-happen fix that hooks me into saying yes, filling up my calendar with events, crowding more into daily life than I can possibly get done. I have lived by Marilyn Savant’s philosophy of having ten times more to do than is humanly possible so that I get to choose which project I work on. As Marilyn argues, “if I only have to do what is possible to get done, then I am stuck doing that one thing.”
But, for the last year and a half, I did only one thing. I took care of my husband. All of my waiting game was focused on Ron’s needs, his schedule, his pain. When we both recognized that the time had come for him to depart, that was an ultimate graduation to anticipate. The only way to have peace was not to anticipate, but to live in the moment, aware, unblinking, grateful. Now he has accomplished that goal — two months ago already — I am still figuring out how to get back to my own worth-waiting-for pattern of life.
Being so absorbed for so long on end-of-life matters makes you rethink what really is worth waiting for, what markers are important enough to gobble up the finite amount of time that remains for you. I know what happens if I don’t think this through. The many opportunities for “doing good” will fill up my calendar by default and I will find myself focused on whatever event comes next, willy nilly. I will go back to letting life happen to me – with the illusion that there are endless days to fill with busy-ness. On the other hand, if I constantly focus on the temporal nature of existence, I am in danger of being turned inward, of feeling niggardly about my days.
How do I reinvest myself in the joy of anticipating planned events, goals, commitments, yet remember the hard-won wisdom of treasuring the moment? How do rejoin the human (rat?) race without becoming so future-focused I don’t live in the present? Because it is inevitable. We humans negotiate an already-not-yet existence. We exist trapped between the past and the future with only occasional glimpses of the Now.
I’ve lived the last year and a half with more glimpses of the Now than ever before in my life. While I’m not grateful for the suffering and loss, I am grateful for the by-product. I want to keep that live-in-the-moment choice of focus going forward.
My high school senior grandson, recently discussing his upcoming graduation, said, “Grandma, I can’t believe I graduate in two weeks! I feel like I have been waiting my whole life for this moment!”
And isn’t that a great feeling? Don’t we envy that exuberance just a bit? And yet. . . . if he sees life through the lens of the-next-big-thing-to wait-for, we can tell him that he’ll spend his life in a waiting room and be disappointed by the result much of the time. So maybe the message for all graduates is, “Enjoy this moment. Feel it. Learn to treasure a moment like this. And then learn that life is about making moments. Lots of them. And savoring them. Even the little ones. Especially the little ones!”
Isn’t that the message for all of us.? Whatever we do, do it with all our heart. What are we waiting for? The time is Now.