In December, my college freshman was home for the holidays, and one Tuesday night she and my daughter who lives in town were going out for sushi. They invited me along, but I hesitated. There were a million reasons I should not go—most falling under the categories of financial or time constraints. There were leftovers at home. There was a lonely blue heeler daydreaming of squirrel chases. I was on my last pair of clean underwear.
So I said yes.
The sushi was overpriced and unmemorable, but the experience was worth the price tag, worth postponing my chores. Bundled up in heavy sweaters as the winter night descended outside, we bantered back and forth. We touched on politics and religion. I listened to them discuss You Tubers and Tic Tocs and pop culture outside of my radar. Disparate generations across the table, I often ate in silence, but blissfully so.
I was living in the moment, soaking up the companionship of these two. It’s so rare that I am with my three daughters and when I am, I love to sit back and listen to the sister talk. There was much of that over the holidays– even more when their older sister arrived– and for that I’m so grateful.
Why does it require such discipline to live in the moment, however… to abandon the obligations and pressures we put on ourselves and be happy with the person we are and the place we are, without worry of the future. In Richard Carlson’s book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, he suggests we ask the question, “Will this matter a year from now?” Indeed, would the worries of my Tuesday—unfinished work, overflowing laundry basket, dwindling checking account—be relevant a year from now? Hardly, yet those two young beauties of mine will be a year older, as will I. There may be more distance between us, more impositions on our time together.
One day long ago, when I was a young mother with a toddler melting down in the grocery checkout line, an elderly woman tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Try to treasure these days. They fly by in the blink of an eye.” As my daughter turned into Linda Blair before my very eyes, I wanted to slap that woman with a package of frozen peas. But now I know, and I’d like to hug her. If only I had listened, soaked up more of the random trivialities of life. If only any of us could view the passage of time with 20/20 acumen.
On that December work night I chose to seize the moment, and although the sushi was just average, the time together filled the little memory vessel in my heart. Aren’t the ordinary, unremarkable moments in life the very ones that cocoon you like a well-worn quilt? How often do you take a step back and look at your oft chaotic, sometimes messy life of daily angsts and know that This. Is. Good. All of it.
Recently I bought something off Facebook Marketplace and arranged a pickup time. Due to a timing snafu and a horrid rainstorm, I postponed the pickup from Saturday to Sunday. When I arrived on Sunday to pay and load the items, I lingered and chatted with the seller. She is caring for an elderly mother, and I recognized in her the face of fatigue. She shared that she had told her mother she couldn’t come visit her because she was waiting for me on Saturday, and that her mother was understanding, not wanting her to drive in the rainstorm.
“So I ended up with a free day, and guess what I did?” she said. “I napped all day.”
Although I don’t doubt that her body needed the rest, I know from experience that the nap represented something more: it meant closing her eyes to the guilt, the worry, the feeling of being beholden to the clock. It was purely decadent “her” time, and I could relate to how wonderful that must have felt.
I have not read any of Carlson’s other books, but their titles are appealing: You Can Feel Good Again, You Can Be Happy (no matter what), Slowing Down to the Speed of Life, and Stop Thinking, Start Living. It’s as if he’s found a thousand different ways to say what we middle-aged folks need to hear: that we can and should stop and carve out time for ourselves. Waste an hour, every now and then. Ignore the budget and buy expensive sushi. Linger over wine with friends. Recharge your battery, one cup of coffee, one walk in the woods, one conversation at a time.
Sitting in the dim light and making quick work of the edamame on that Tuesday evening, I tried to focus on the moment—to memorize those fresh faces and their unbridled laughter. For I know there will be a time when I can no longer hop in my car and drive myself. There will be days when these single young women are too consumed with children and household responsibilities to go out for a leisurely meal. And there will be a day in the (hopefully distant) future when I am alone and, perhaps, lonely. When I will need a treasure trove of memories. When I will tap on the shoulder of a young mother and pass it on.
Perhaps there needs to be a new book: “Don’t MISS the Small Stuff.” Do your worries about the future and your pressures of the moment prevent you from enjoying the sweet moments of life? From saying yes to the spontaneous in a life that is predicated on plans?
I highly recommend the sushi. Order it all.