Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Of the moment, not in it?

The great challenge of living is that everything is over, or it hasn’t happened yet. As soon as the realization of a moment enters your thoughts, the moment itself has passed, and your thoughts are already into the perfect tense.

Now, it may happen that the moment that has just passed is being succeeded or about to be succeeded by other moments more or less just like it. So the thrill of going down the roller coaster track seems to continue for several seconds successively, before being replaced by the temporary calm of clackety-clicking your way up the next hill. All too soon, the ride has ended, and you have to decide whether to get back in line to go again, trying to recapture a thrill that will not be quite so much the next time, or look for another ride. But before long, the day at the amusement park will be over and the long ride home will leave you with quickly fading memories of the marvelous terrors of the day.

Time will pass at 60 seconds per minute no matter what you do, and everything you can think about has already happened.

The future differs because we have influence over it, but never control. It is ours to nudge this way or that, to delight in anticipation of it, or hollow ourselves out with worry. We have a duty to the future, to borrow its resources to plan for that which can be reasonably expected. But even the “reasonably expected” rarely materializes in quite the way we thought.

The only moment we control is the present one. We control it by accepting it, reveling in its tangibility. The only thing we can touch, the only thing we can manage, is right now. But each now has to be consigned to the past as the past. A pleasure can be set in a special place, to be considered now and again, to be given up as thanks later. A sin must be repented of, that its past occurrence does not dominate the present or threaten the future.

Our language has so many cliches for this thought, simply because it is true. We say a person is “living in the past,” or that he “lives life to the fullest.” Alcoholics use its truth as a means to recovery: Easy Does It. One Day at a Time. They consign the future and the past to their “Higher Power” (in the language of 12-step programs) because mortal peril lies in trying too hard to control either. “If only” is useful only insofar as it teaches the lessons of next time. When it takes hold for its own sake, it becomes sin.

The Spirit challenges us to live right now, because only in right now can we do anything. Right now the beggar is at our door. In a moment, he will be someone else’s problem. Right now the victim of priestly abuse stands before us. Tomorrow, he may be an abuser himself.

Right now we can do. Yesterday we did. Tomorrow, we will have done, and must let go again. We must be of each moment, but not in it. In it, we can get stuck. Of it, we can take it and pass it along.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home