I had two doctors appointments and was then meeting a friend so that we could schmooze while having twin pedicures. Singing in the car, loving the glorious day and then wham.
Everything changed. A big rig had fallen off the side of the road (the road is twisty and narrow and not meant for big trucks). You probably already know how big a big rig is, but when you see it on your teeny one-car-only road, it looks like gigantic. And when it’s turn on its side, impossible to pass. The driver was standing outside the cab of the truck, just looking at his truck, which was now on the side of the hill amongst the of trees.
At first, I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. A big rig on our road? But that’s impossible. I sat in my car for a minute or two, trying to absorb what I was looking at. Then—I wish I didn’t have to admit this—I thought, “But what about my pedicure? I’ve been waiting for this!” (I’m glad the driver was safe. That prevented me from thoughts of my pedicure before thoughts of his safety. Not happy to admit that either). Also, I hadn’t seen my friend for a long time, and this was our special date. And. And. Waah. Waah. I felt like a ten year old, all dressed up in her pink ruffled dress who’d just been told the party was cancelled.
Then the highway patrolman showed up and walked over to my car. He was a nice guy—that Craig—and said, “No way anyone’s getting out of here until tonight.” (There is another way out of our road, but it’s bumpy and has holes and unless it’s a true emergency—pedicures don’t qualify--it’s not an easy ride).
When I walked back in our front door a few minutes later, my thinking had moved from whining about pedicures to realizing once again that everything or anything can change in an instant. You think you’re on your way to see your friend when a big rig turns on its side. Or, like Sheryl Sandberg’s husband, on vacation with loving friends and family, when suddenly, you have a heart attack. If we’re lucky, we’re given notice that big changes are coming. We’re given time to consider our lives and what we love and how we want to spend the rest of them. But so much of the time, change happens in an instant and every single thing that mattered until that moment no longer matters. Perspective comes crashing in. What exactly was I, were we, valuing in the moments before the sudden change? Where was my mind? Where was my attention? Was I galloping into the future or messing around in thoughts of the past?
Here’s the thing, and I’m watching this over and over with myself, people I know and people I work with: Unless we start paying attention to what matters now, before the emergency, our minds will have gotten so used to seeing what’s wrong or to complaining or to blaming that when it’s crucial to return to presence, to these sensations, these feelings, this grief, this decision, we will be lost in a sea of sickness or depression or despair. Same with ageing. At ninety years old, it’s hard to lurch your mind back to what isn’t wrong if you haven’t practiced seeing with those eyes before then. If you are dependent on your physical body for your definition of yourself, and that body becomes unreliable, it can be unsettling and confusing and just plain miserable to live from day to day.
Over and over, every day, I keep reminding myself that everything with a form—bodies, tea cups, relationships, bank accounts, cool shoes—either gets lost or dies or gets broken. There are no other choices. Everything ends. Feelings end. Situations end. Success ends. Meals end (and no amount of bingeing will make them last). It’s a tough sword to keep falling on, particularly if things are going your way at the moment. If you are well, and your kids are well, and your spouse is well.
But the best part of this practice is that when you know that everything ends, you can adore what’s here now. The appreciation for this face, this interaction, this rose, this love gets bigger and bigger. Ask yourself what you would spend your attention on if you didn’t believe that you and those you love had more time. Start now.