The Spectacular Miserable Now

Swallow.

Go ahead, do it.

How does it feel? Probably not like anything. It’s kind of the point. When our bodies are working the way they are supposed to, the myriad functions they perform generally go otherwise unnoticed. It’s by design and it’s pretty amazing.

Now, think back to the last time you had a sore throat. That horrible feeling of trying to swallow through the irritation and the burning. Sitting on your couch miserably and gingerly sucking down soup bemoaning your life and trying to remember what it felt like when you didn’t have a sore throat. Wishing you could swallow just once without all that pain.

And then one day your sore throat went away. Maybe you woke up in the morning and it was the first thing you noticed before you opened your eyes. Or maybe you didn’t even notice. You got up and went about your day for an hour or two before you realized, oh my god, I feel better.

Being in pain means focusing solely on what it would be like to be without pain. And when we are without pain we take that fact for granted. We are either resisting or unaware. It seems like we are missing a stage in between.

You can call it being present, mindful or grateful, but the simple fact is that it is hard to fully feel an experience, any experience without comparing it to where you’ve been or where you want to go.

I met a woman on a cross country flight last year and we talked for the entire flight. We started talking when I asked her about the not-quite-small-enough to be a carry-on item plant she was holding. I found her excitement about the plant charming and we proceeded to talk non-stop for the next 5 hours. I was struck by how silly and seemingly unaffected by the trivialities of the universe she was.

And then I found out why.

She told me about her childhood and how she grew up. She told me her father had purposely driven his car into a tree with her mother in the passenger seat because he didn’t want her to leave him. She told me about finding her brother’s body after he committed suicide. She spoke with the authority of somebody who had fully experienced something, understood it, and come out the other side scarred but stronger.

She had incredible and traumatic perspective, which made the life she was currently living so much clearer.

We do not all have access to such profound perspective. And so, every moment we are given is a moment that we are left to perceive, distill and understand for ourselves based on wherever we are at that point in time.

It is difficult to understand our present on its face. To take in what is happening and form an objective opinion of the experience detached from what we have been through. To pause and consider, all things being equal, if nothing changed, got better or worse, would I be able to see all there is to appreciate in this moment?

The answer is almost assuredly no.

And so I find myself trying to feel the waves of an experience, to stop whatever I am doing, and just soak in the landscape, the music, the food, or whatever the experience, and appreciate it for what it is, whatever that may be.

Even when that moment, or series of moments is horrible.

Because I know one day I will look back at stressful, worrisome, troubling times in my life and realize it was easier than I knew at the time. And that is why romanticizing our past is so easy. It is why we long for a time when we were younger, better looking, less achey, less encumbered, less stressed, less everything. Life is an additive experience, we rack up bills, responsibilities, obligations, regrets.

Our troubles are forgotten as every time “before” becomes its own halcyon diorama on a shelf in our memory.

I keep thinking to myself lately, in everything I go through by myself or with my partner, someday I will look back at this time and smile. Smile at how stressed, or worried, or impatient I was, for no reason other than I didn’t know any better.

And so I find myself trying to imagine this current time as the best things will ever be.

I hope that is not the case. I hope things only get better, but if they don’t, I want to make sure I am able to love today for all that it is. To feel the current wash over me. And maybe that is tied to being grateful, and present and mindful and whatever other word becomes top of mind for the culture.

I do not know if I will ever be able to fully comprehend something in the broader sense of time. Maybe there are only the small things which I can reflect upon. The emotional resonance of physical indicators. The memory of a sore throat. The feeling of swallowing without one.

The knowledge that it all changes.

And now is all we have.

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