Certain things can bring you instantly into your now. A baby’s cry. An amazing sunset. A first kiss. If you are a skilled time-traveler, though, you can avoid the full impact of even these primal events. Not that you don’t experience any of it. But you aren’t fully conscious of the moment because you’ve been in training for so long. Training for what? For the next moment, of course. Well, not even the next moment when you get there, but the next one and the next.
I once ate an entire Thanksgiving dinner without noticing it. My husband and I were newlyweds. He also was newly in the Coast Guard. We were stationed on the opposite coast from our home and I was seven months pregnant with our first son. Plus, we were broke. A week before Thanksgiving, I was standing in our tiny kitchen, pondering what to make from nothing, when Wayne came home. He gave me a big kiss and the best news. A Thanksgiving dinner at the base. And it would be free!
Oh, for joy! I savored the idea throughout the week. And I planned it all out. My strategy involved a sure-fire, two-part approach for getting my no-money’s worth. Part one: Whiz through the first course. Part two: Take your slow, loving time with the second course. And Savor every morsel.
When we got to the Coast Guard base that Thursday afternoon, I was raring to go on the free stuff. I chewed through my first course like a rabid termite. As planned. Wahoo! I was pretty full after this course, which surprised me as I didn’t usually fill up that easily. Still, I kept with my strategy. I loaded up again. Welcome, Thanksgiving bliss!
Then I sat at the table, looked at it like a kid who can’t stand vegetables, and could not take another bite. The giant hole in my plan soon became apparent to me. I had failed to account for one thing. My soon-to-be nine-and-a-half- pound son had made himself known. “It’s crowded in here, Mama! Sorry to say ’cause I know you like to eat. But there’s no more room in here!”
I still remember my chagrin and the awareness that I had ripped myself off. I still don’t remember anything about the meal I downed. Of course, nobody else does stuff like this. Nobody misses the lovely guests you’ve invited for dinner because you’re busy cleaning up after them before they even arrive. Nobody invites company over and seats people according to how their clothing matches the decor. Nobody sits looking for dust balls while others talk. Nobody else has ever done these things. Just me because I’m so special. Just me because I’m one of a kind.
Nah, I’m not. At this point, I’m one of seven billion or so human beings alive on the planet. And every single one of us time travels. Some folks do it a lot, like the version of me I used to be, and some do it not so much, like the version of me I am now. But every time you time travel, you miss the richness of your now.
What is it about us as human beings that makes us allergic to our now? The answers to this question come down to one small or perhaps very big thing. They come down to the need for control. Time travel, whether it’s into the past or into the future, gives an illusion of control. It’s an illusion that’s completely unavailable to you in your now.
You have the illusion of control when you travel to the past because you know what’s already happened. This allows you to move the pieces of the story around to suit yourself better than the actual events did. This is the land of what-ifs,
if-onlys and if-I’d-justs. When you travel to the future you have the illusion of control because none of it actually has happened to you yet. Not in this timeline anyway. So you can invent away like a mad scientist. Just about anything is possible in the future and you can control it all in your imagination. But the present? Oh, there isn’t any illusion of control in the now. Not really. The only thing you can do to simulate it is to “count the dust balls.” To numb out and not really be there.
Many of us spend large parts of our lives time traveling, rewriting the past, avoiding the present, and inventing the future. But some of us find a way, by some amazing grace, to plant ourselves, as firmly as possible, in the blessed Now. Some of us do it just because we’re so very tired of the alternatives. All that zooming around is hard work and some of us can’t take it anymore. We finally just collapse into the Now.
Collapsing into the Now never comes to you without a price tag though. There is an inviolate rule. You can’t bring anything with you into the Now. Only your pure unvarnished self. You have to leave all the glittering images behind. Images you’ve spent a lifetime polishing. You have to leave all your pet opinions about what everybody else should be doing behind as well. It is a bit like dying. You can bring one thing with you and one thing only. Yourself. The imperfect, un-mended, absolutely human you.