If not now then when?

Part 1:  Morning

Cool waters licked the shore on a calm September morning by Lake Winnipesaukee. Dawn stretches into day.

Trash is the catch of the day. A salty treat for those with the strength to stomach it. Seagulls glide on the balmy breeze, and gather where food can be scavenged. One seagull, weary of crowds, ventures alone and is rewarded by a forgotten mussel in the sand. Stopping, he thinks to himself, “What luck!” But instantly his delight turns dark and his prize tarnishes for he thinks, “This is such a rare find! I would hate to eat now and never taste it’s kind again. Better to leave this one today than to be bound by desire for many days to come!” The gull saunters sullenly away.

Not moments later another gull spots the tasty morsel. “What luck!,” he said. But instantly his delight turns dark and his prize tarnishes for he thinks, “I recall a time that I ate a scrap such as this and it spoiled my stomach for hours! I should not take that chance lest I sour my belly again.” This gull too saunters sullenly away.

By now it is noon and a third gull happens upon the mussel in the sand. He thinks nothing, but eats his brunch and basks in the September sun, content.

Part 2: Afternoon

I pull into the garage to see the mud room door swing open revealing two toothy grins and four anxious arms ready to hold me. It’s a welcome I don’t deserve but Maya and Timmy don’t know that! Squealing as she jumps onto my chest, clinging like a barnacle to a hull, Maya rests on me as though she has just arrived home. Timmy waits for his turn at the top of the stares. He’s not so interested in embraces as he is in relating a wordy story he tells between breaths and jumps. “A bee (house fly) was in duh garaj dis mownin’ and I said hey lil’ guy dis not youw home, so I chathed him owt!” Simply amazing.

But the joy of Daddy’s arrival quickly turns dark and her prize tarnishes as Maya turns her eyes of desire to a package arrived in the mail. “It’s my game it’s my game!” She shouts in a pitch only dogs and dolphins can hear. “Can we play it now please please please…” We could not. Dinner was not going to make itself; the evening was already later than usual. “Tomorrow darling, I promise, but not right now.” Daggers, knives, swords, and lances pierced her heart blooming alligator tears from her almond eyes. The frown she wears seems like it is drawn by Picasso, so beautifully sad. “But what if there’s no time tomorrow, or we get busy, or we forget?” She saunters sullenly away.”

Meanwhile Timmy tells another story, “Der was a pop-thickle and I ate it, and I dwopped it on duh flowah, and Jolie (our dog) twied to eat it but I thed No Jolie! and she wan away.” Simply amazing.

By this time Maya is back, “Dad, do you remember that one time you said you would go back to Dunkin’ Donuts to get a chocolate donut for me?” I did remember, it wasn’t yet 24 hours ago. “Well you never did and I’m afraid you will not remember to let me play the game tomorrow and so I want to play it now!” Of course nothing had changed circumstantially. “I’m sorry sweetheart, we just can’t right now”. She sauntered sullenly away again.

As soon as Maya left my lap, crushed by desire and anxiety, Timmy jumped up, and hugged me, content.

Part 3: Evening

The sun is sinking low beyond the treeline casting long shadows over Lake Winnipesaukee. Dusk coils into night.

Fireflies betray their positions with green flickers, as the croaks of bull frogs blend with the chirps of crickets. By a hidden bank under a willow tree lays a bed of lily pads, each one identical to the other. A male bullfrog awakens from his muddy slumber at the bottom of the lake, taking his seat on top of a floating pad. “Yes, this will do nicely,” he thinks to himself, “An insect or two is bound to fly by.”

Soon he is joined by a companion, taking his seat on the opposite side. “He has taken the better pad for himself,” says the first. “Excuse me kind sir, I was just on my way to that pad before you settled there, would you mind exchanging pads with me?” “Not at all!” replied the second, “I am happy to do it.” And so they swapped, each settling on their new pads.

Not long after, a third frog joins the two taking his seat on a vacant pad. “He has taken the better pad for himself.” says the first. “Excuse me kind sir, that pad on which you sit is the one I’ve used for the past seven nights, would you mind exchanging pads with me?” “Not at all!” replied the third. “I am happy to do it.” And so they too swapped, each settling on their new pads.

And so the shuffling continued with every new arrival until all the pads were occupied. Each frog caught ten flies from their perches, and they all relished the same September breeze. All but one, content.

Part 4: Time

We are not born into time. The day a child takes its first breath he knows nothing of hours, minutes, or seconds. They are born into a moment, a now. “Future” is not a useful concept for a newborn. “I’m hungry now!” they cry. “I’m cold now! I’m uncomfortable now!” they continue. They do not plan for an afternoon nap, they have no appointments to keep. Untouched by the anxiety of “what could be” or the burdens of “remember when’s” they eat and sleep and dream in the only time they know: now.

“Past” is an equally hollow notion. Babies do not long for the days back inside the womb, they do not reminisce about the nursing staff back at the hospital. The “now” is overwhelming enough as it is, with all its colors, shapes, tastes, sounds, smells, and textures. There is a lot to process here and now. Who has the time or energy to add two more dimensions to the abundance that is here now?

Where does the “future” exist? When is it I wonder? 6:00 tonight? No. That is an idea. A projection of the “now”. The “future” does not exist except in imagination. When 6:00 arrives, it will arrive as “now.” That’s all there is.

Where does the “past exist? When was it I wonder? 6:00 this morning? No. That is an idea as well. A memory of the “now”. The “past” does not exist except in memory. When 6:00 arrived, it did so as “now” because that is all there is.

Time is an illusion– a very convincing and sometimes useful one– but an illusion.

The first seagull could not see the mussel in the “now”. He viewed the moment through the lens of future, and so he could not enjoy what there was to enjoy “now”. He suffered for his choice of perspective. The second gull could not see the mussel in the “now” either. He viewed the moment through the lens of past, blind to the goodness that was in front of him. The third gull had no lens, and enjoyed the moment for all its pleasures.

Maya abandoned the moment she was enjoying so intensely with me, only to fetter herself to the anxieties of the future and the hurts of the past. Future and past may be only notions of the mind, but the violence they wreak on our tender hearts is formidable.

The frog hopped from pad to pad, sure that the next pad would be better than the last. We tend to hop from moment to moment, waiting for a different hour instead of enjoying what the “now” has to offer. “I can’t wait until Friday”, “When is this going to be over?”, “I just have to get through this week!”. As every lily pad was the same, most moments are quite identical. Most of the time, one moment really isn’t much better than the next. As we wait for this moment to end, as we “get through” life, we miss most of it, but its right there in front of us to enjoy. Now.

If I cannot live and savor my life now, then when?

  “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Matthew 6:25)

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