The grip of the present

By Sarah E. Reynolds | Aug 31, 2018

"You never miss the water until the well runs dry," as the saying goes. I can state unequivocally, however, that once the well does run dry, it takes no time at all to miss the water.

In our case, it was actually smaller, but more complicated, than that. A problem with our water pressure tank caused us to go about a day and a half without running water. I won't try to describe it -- something about a control box and a capacitor, the man said. Suffice it to say I was very grateful to the well service company for coming out the same day I called, and immensely relieved when the water was restored.

It was illustrative of all the things in life -- tangible and otherwise -- that we take for granted until we have to do without them. Sometimes they are restored to us -- electricity after a storm, loved ones returning from a trip or a stay in the hospital, our own health after an illness -- and sometimes they are gone forever.

The awareness of the fragility of life and all its underpinnings is a beautiful and terrible gift. It's what takes our breath away when we watch egrets feeding in a marsh at sunset and what fills us with anxiety when someone we love is gravely ill.

On balance, I'm grateful for this awareness, because it quickens my appreciation of life, of fleeting connections with the lives around me, of the heart-stopping beauty that is everywhere if I will only stop to take it in -- even in moments of heartbreak.

Six years ago, my father had the stroke that eventually led to his death. When I went to see him in the hospital the next day, I gasped at how small he looked, curled up in the fetal position in his hospital bed. The man who had been larger than life for me for nearly 60 years was shrunken, diminished, confused. I was shattered.

He happened to notice one of the actors in a commercial on the TV in his room. "That looks like Uncle Mike," he said, referring to one of his brothers. "Is Uncle Mike alive?" I had to break to him, again, after nine years, the news of his dear brother's death. Of the welter of emotions that filled me at that moment, what I remember is sadness at his renewed sorrow and being touched by his deep love for the brother he had just lost again.

As we age, of course, the losses start to pile up. Friends and family die or move away; things we have enjoyed doing become increasingly difficult and may pass from our lives; our health and fitness decline; the very space we take up in the world shrinks as we move to smaller, more manageable homes. More and more, we are sustained by memories. Living in the now can also sustain us -- to be present to this moment, to drink in its beauty, to become porous to love.

In "A Search for Solitude," Thomas Merton says, "The grip the present has on me. That is the one thing that has grown most noticeably in the spiritual life. Nothing much else has." The present. Now. This moment. It is the one thing we always have. Until we pass out of time all together.

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