A reflection dedicated to Christina Rose Miller and Josh Pellerin, whose nows endure long past their moments on Earth.
By Jenn Dynis and Sarah Free
Emily Dickinson once wrote, “Forever is composed of nows.” It is hard to say if our lives are little more than a collection of moments, defined with the people we spend them with, and by the places we spend them in. If the “nows” we live are the primary events by which our existences are centered, then the ways and means by which those moments come and go are paramount to the people we become.
A life of “nows” does not presuppose a challenge-less life; many, if not the majority of our waking “nows” are difficult. Fully engaging in a life where our purpose is never clear is a task all of us have the choice of whether or not to bear; where we err is when we push this “human challenge” aside for the more pressing, salient, and immediately external “life challenges.” These latter challenges are the ones that quite literally, keep us going. They are late hours studying or at the office. They are making money and paying bills. They are grocery shopping, cleaning the apartment, and going to the post office. They are necessary. But we are wrong when we begin to act as if they are everything. We are wrong when they become the only thing.
When we become so fully engrossed with taking care of these external “life challenges,” we forget the most precious, most essential, and hardest challenge of all: that of simply being human. The secondary role that we assign our mental and emotional well-being–as if their maintenance is a given rather than a task–is the most detrimental choice of them all. The presupposition of being “fine” creates the illusion that so long as we say we are fine, the maintenance of our inner selves is taken care of.
Our responses to life’s demands become automatic; they become something that has defined the ways by which we exist and subsequently the ways in which we respond to events: happiness or tragedy, we are expected to eventually be “fine” so that we can carry on with our external challenges. When we are not “fine”–when our inner challenge fails to meet the expectation of self-maintenance–that failure is packaged and labeled as the manifestation of some kind of deficit. It is packaged, labeled, and sold as worthy of medication and a quiet pat on the back.
We must ask ourselves if the approach of overt maintenance of external tasks–to the detriment of internal tasks–is the right one to take to the struggle of being human. This question begs further questioning: what is it that actually matters? The central approach to any life–whether lived out consciously or unconsciously–is to determine what our purpose is in relation to others, in relation to ourselves, and in relation to the world. In a seemingly “purposeless” world, the only logical answer seems to be that we are each other’s purpose. If we are, in fact, “here” in the way that we recognize each other as living, breathing, feeling, decision-making agents (and not in the semi-certain, mostly uncertain existential way that philosophers like to debate), it is perhaps the only truth there is. We are here. And that is enough. Whether we are aware of it or not, in the face of life’s challenges we are the only thing that can be each other’s saving grace. No individual purpose is given the day each person is born and none is explicitly stated the day we die. Any fact other than our own existence that claims moral stature may be baseless speculation, but our actions still must find roots somewhere. Perhaps that is the point. Perhaps we are supposed to find a base, a home, and a sense of security in the people around us because they are the only facts we know. There is no pre-ordained, common purpose to our lives but to be. Why not be with each other?
When we start to create our own purpose by investing in others, the “nows” that characterize our lives begin to be populated by those people. At this point, our existence is no longer dependent on ourselves exclusively, but on the others we encounter. When we choose to let others in, they seamlessly begin to form the fabric and context for which we live. This choice allows us to simultaneously begin to live a life that is not so fully engrossed in those “life challenges,” but in the connection with the people around us–in the only things we know to be true.
Some may have a small role. Others may teach us valuable lessons. Each can challenge us to try new things, converse with new people, and view the world as it is seen beyond our own limited perspective. By their nature, those we encounter embolden us to travel into a world that is not explored by the weak, but is privileged only to those who are strong enough to bare it. They share their stories of where they have been, where they aspire to be, and unknowingly begin to take up chapters in our own books. The borders between our “nows” and theirs may very likely cease to exist altogether. If things go right, they should.
However, it may not be until after these “nows” have had the chance to come and go that we understand their true value. In retrospect, we are able to find that these borderless moments told the story about how we each learned to enjoy the simple things of life. They taught us to never take for granted the time spent with people we care about. They helped us grow as people. They reminded us to live solely and fiercely for the things that make us happy, with the people that made us happiest. Even in the wake of “nows” that have forever passed, it is the humble spirit and quiet strength of nows remembered that teach us to be a little more patient with a lot more love, and respond to the greatest challenge of all with a single mindset: excelsior.
Image courtesy of arndt_100, Flickr Creative Commons