Many people have remarked that this month is the longest in memory, so much so that as you lie awake in bed at night, you can hardly believe that this morning was the same day. This has a very simple explanation.
At one time or another in your life, you’ve probably gotten the advice to “live in the moment.” Maybe you’ve gone so far as to adopt this as a way of life; many people call this being “present.” Some people don’t like the way that sounds, but even if you dismiss this all as hippie mumbo-jumbo, you probably know that many people have had that great moment in life – usually looking in the eyes of another, sometimes just looking within yourself, and just really connecting to life. That is what being present feels like, even if you don’t want to call it that. So the annoying people giving that persistent advice are telling you to be present in the moment, because that is how you can experience the best of life.
But a very similar thing happens in your head in a very different kind of situation. For example, when I was a young teen in New Jersey, I was riding my bicycle alongside my friend, who was riding a moped. (It was Jersey in the ’80s, mopeds were very cool then.) I was dumb enough to hang on to his arm so we could go up the busy street at an unreasonable speed. We were going way too fast when my front wheel hit a rock and flinched into the curb, throwing me over the handlebars.
To this day, I can still remember every detail of being in the air, the thoughts racing through my head, the department store across the street appearing upside down, the texture of the sidewalk as my face approached it, and the cool wave of relief flooding my entire body as I floated inches above the concrete and into soft uncut grass, completely unharmed. Those two seconds felt like the longest day of my life. Because I was present.
I don’t want to label that event as traumatic, but only because it’s at the low end of the range of things that you might consider as trauma. But I can also remember time slowing to a crawl on a hiking trail, while watching a bear creep slowly towards my son. I can remember certain moments of eternity during my divorce. And I can recognize that at those times, I was very much present. Fortunately, I had good ways of relieving trauma – with great friends, absorbing work, the bonds of family. Unfortunately, I also had some bad ways to just take the shortcut of blotting out any sense of presence. That tended to make the next day really long, with a splitting headache.
So anyway …
We are all now at a time of global trauma. In each moment, our senses are ready for the next thing to happen. Our usual places and people of refuge are unavailable, or only available in an unfamiliar form. Too many of us are in a precarious situation, whether emotional or financial or physical. And so we are far more present than we want to be, for a situation we never wanted to be in. Even if you are lucky enough to have someone to turn to, that person is also experiencing the same trauma. We are all present together.
That. Is. Why. The. Days. Are. So. Long.
Nevertheless, it remains true that being present in the moment gives you the best chance to find those moments that make life worth living. You may have been forced to be present for every moment in these times, but you still have the choice to be present for yourself, for your loved ones, and for everyone you can. In the end, I am one of those annoying people who gives this advice persistently.
One thought on “present time”
Thank you for this, Ginsu. I read this piece on grief, which struck me as a good companion to your thoughts: https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief
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