What happens when we are so focused on what’s next that we don’t even notice what’s right now.
For some reason I’ve been on a Kevin Costner/Tom Hanks kick lately, if for no other reason than I like kind movies that remind me of how there are indeed good guys and magic in the world. There are both, even in this social media of hate stew that tends to occasionally overwhelm. My TV still isn’t turned on, but I love movies in the background. This past week it was Field of Dreams.
I can’t speak for you, but in most movies there is a single line that leaps out like a neon billboard. I found one in Field.
That was back in 1989 when Costner was still schlubby, SoCal eye candy and a major box office draw. This saccharine adult boy’s wet dream about dads, baseball and resolution, starring one of my favorite actors of all time, James Earl Jones, reminded me of how much I miss sweet-natured movies. The biggest takeaway, however, was the handsome, aging Burt Lancaster as one-inning wonder Archibald “Moonlight” Graham.
He appears as a doctor in that dream world where Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, finds himself in a surreal 1972, the year Doc Graham dies. Ray talks to the man about his truncated major league career. What Doc says to Ray is, effectively, why I watched the movie:
Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham : We just don’t recognize life’s most significant moments while they’re happening. Back then I thought, “Well, there’ll be other days.” I didn’t realize that that was the only day. (author bolded)
Let’s talk about real world.
I am a very serious football fan. My dad was Washington’s first TV producer (for the football team) back in 1948. I grew up drinking the rich milk of football stories and stats. I was a Dan Marino fan. Marino, who was hugely talented, made it all the way to the Super Bowl just once. I suspect, given his prodigious passing ability, he always assumed he’d return. After all, the young man was blazing a streak and he likely felt unstoppable.
He never went back.
I always felt that was a terrible travesty. Watching Marino in his last years of playing, his crusty knees encased in braces, forced to throw more and longer and harder as his pass protection disintegrated, broke my heart.
He never went back.
He didn’t realize that was the only time. I suspect he always assumed that there would be other days.
Most of us do much the same thing. We rush past some of life’s most incredible moments, assuming they will happen again. Then, at some point, we may realize that that day wouldn’t ever happen again, nor anything like it.
The shimmering, almost ephemeral nature of such moments is part of their magic.
We may miss the magic entirely in our hurry for bigger, better, faster. A child’s first steps. When we earned that degree. The day our parents pinned our Second Lieutenant’s butter bars on our shoulders. The first time we got on the scale and THAT NUMBER popped up, signaling the end of a very long journey. That amazing first kiss. You get it.
The world is chock — full of magic. In our rush to race to some finish line, some of life’s forever magical moments are lost in the weeds. I’m not entirely sure we know how to see them, we’re so busy searching for the Next Big Thing.
A few weeks ago I was starting my packing for my upcoming Africa trip. “Hook" was on in the background. The aging Peter Pan, played by Robin Williams, is a corporate shark, always and forever too busy to show up for his son’s baseball games. Or much of anything, for that matter.
Moira’s entreaty to get Peter to pay attention while they’re young is one of the movie’s high points:
On my very first trip to Africa in 2000, I took two American friends with me. Two young guys; one was my BF. Our group of six split into two, each driving a Land Rover. We were in Botswana for a few days. We saw nothing for hours and days on end. Then out of the blue, we turned a corner and came upon a pride of lions lazing in the sun, bellies distended, having finished off a large gemsbock. The stranded ship of the animal’s stripped rib cage was the first thing I saw. My trio sat for hours, photographing, studying in awe. The other trio got irritated with us, spun out and took off to look for more action.
There was no more. That was THE moment of our safari. My BF, and Mike, our safari guide and I sat in wonder, watching for hours as we observed the animals, their play and moods. Those images are imprinted on me forever.
The other group missed it entirely. Neither of those young men ever went back. But at least one has the memories.
A friend’s marriage imploded precisely this way when the husband spent too much time at work, broke too many important promises and let his family-most especially his two very young sons-down too many times. His wife didn’t want her boys growing up believing that such behavior was either acceptable or normal.
He missed the magic of being a dad. As a result, he’s now missing the magic of being married to the love of his life.
A more recent example of our focus on doing vs. being came from a telling and powerful tweet from Simone Biles, who, after stepping away from Olympic competition, responded to the supportive outpouring that she had received:
The Western model, which focuses so heavily on the Calvinist- driven notion of purpose, work, a certain amount of suffering and the outright loathing of anything that stinks of laziness (like taking a work break, for example, or early retirement), punishes being vs. doing.
Yet, we so often crave the Eastern sensibilities which teach breathing, being present in the moment. Mindfulness is now so overused, so vastly misunderstood and bandied around like a bag of Snickers that we are eviscerating its application the same way we made yoga into a competitive sport.
My hand is way up here. I’m as guilty as anyone, buying into the productivity bullshit for years, and paying the price for it. Otherwise I wouldn’t be saying a thing about it; this mindset has cost me dearly. Not as much any more. It’s one reason I turned to Buddhism, at which I am righteously lousy, but a dedicated student.
I am writing this article sitting cross-legged on an ER bed, where I landed at 5:30 am. I was determined to get some tests and find out what on EARTH was going on as my blood pressure had spiked and had stayed high for several weeks.
I’ve been spending a lot of time finding out why and what I can do about it.
The need to get all the chores done for the last several years to facilitate a home sale, a huge move, multiple injuries and some very significant surgeries, settling in, huge fires, endless house projects, blah blah blah weigh on a girl after a while. Then all the hate and anger and viciousness from trolls, the stresses of trying to properly prepare for my trip given the new Covid guidelines, it’s been a lot. You can relate. All of us have this kind of stuff in our buckets in one way or another.
One day recently I walked out to my gazebo. Given our temps this year, the evening was a rare cool night. I sat facing my backyard, full of massive trees waving in the breeze. The setting sun dappled the bark with bronze splashes.
Next to my right shoulder, the suet and feeders were smothered with birds, who have long learned not to fear me. They swooped and fought and fed and sang. Not much more delightful, other than a young male deer availing himself of a water source.
I breathed in the cool green beauty of my back yard. I have no idea how long I will have this house, this life, this yard. How long my trees will live in a changing climate. How long….I will live.
For now, it looks good.
My ER doc just handed me a lot of good news. All my tests point to lovely health, with just a few divots which are easily addressed. The more research I do (and here with heartfelt thanks to those readers who admonished me to take my BP spikes seriously, I by god did, you betcha, and thanks) the more it’s clear that the migraine med and stress are the likely culprits. All the tests are normal, nothing hinky in the organs or blood, all is well. We all agree: it’s likely a med, and very likely stress. Those can both be handled.
However, I am immensely grateful for the scare. As I wind down the big to-do list and the house becomes less of a constant ongoing litany of shitIgottagetdone, I can sit.
It’s a great gift of later-in-life wisdom, should we ever get there, that we perhaps might finally get to the point where just sitting once in a while is a fine thing indeed. What’s very sad is that for so many of us, by the time we reach the point where we see how essential this is, great damage has been done to our health, relationships and much more. The great feeding frenzy which is America sucks the lifeblood out of us. All the younger folks whose articles admonish this and that productivity hack are in “doing jail.” I did my time.
I can still get a great deal done, take care of my body, mind and spirit, but lack the hack mentality to get there, wherever the mysterious “there” is. What I’ve slowly learned to do, and I mean slowly, is let go of the desperate need to prove myself, overachieve for some measurement system that doesn’t exist except inside me, and truly focus on the moment. As some wag once said, “There is no there, there.” You and I never, ever arrive, except, perhaps, when we time out.
Any fan of Ram Dass remembers “Be Here Now.” It’s not easy to retrain the Western brain. I’m getting there. If I go now, I’ll have had a pretty cool life. But the way things look, barring being too slow in front of a thundering elephant herd, I’ll be here much longer.
I plan to concentrate much harder to see the very real magic which exists in every living second, if we choose to find it. It begins with being grateful that we are, indeed alive. After that, it’s up to us to find what is enchanting in today.
Because as Moonlight said, There won’t be another day like today.
Make yours count.
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