One of my ex-boyfriends hated people who ate grated cheese straight from the packet – especially when it was frozen. “You’re not one of those people, are you?” he’d ask. “Yep,” I’d reply, “especially when it’s frozen.” And then I’d tilt my head back and drop a generous pinch into my mouth in defiance, practically swallowing half of two fingers in the process.
I smile a little as repeat the gesture with a packet of trois fromages rapés while preparing dinner. It’s terrible to watch (there’s nothing attractive about someone swallowing two fingers and a whole lot of cheese) but truly delicious. Although it’s more than two years since I was reprimanded for this habit, it’s in those moments, as I stuff fresh cheese into my wide open mouth, that I am truly able to live in the moment.
Minutes later – over a shared tray of nachos, featuring the trois fromages that didn’t find its way into my mouth – I lament to my good friend James that it’s hard to ever live in the moment. Does he find it hard to live in the present when he’s off doing all the things he imagined? He’s been living in Copenhagen and travelling for six months; I’m just beginning my adventure in Paris.
I can’t tell if it’s easier or harder when you’re away from home. Often times we’re wrapped up in our routines, and we forget to appreciate the small things that make up a moment. But then at other times – when we are where we’d dreamt of being – we can’t appreciate the moment for what it is. We’re wondering what happens next; what comes after. Each is a reprieve and a curse: to live in anticipation, and horror that once the anticipated has arrived it will disappear as quickly as it came.
Where will I be in five and a half months time? Will I decide I prefer Melbourne? Or will I choose Paris and its morning pain au chocolat, overpriced café crème and dogs in clothing stores? Or perhaps London and its clockwork public transport, horrid cooked breakfasts and heatwaves of less than 30 degrees celcius? Or in the end, will New York be my preference? Who will think of me often in the six months I’ll be gone? Will feelings last? What will happen when I’m back – and what won’t?
Here I am, in la ville lumière, doing everything I dreamed and planned for many months – and all I am faced with is everything I don’t have, each decision I haven’t made, every possibility that hasn’t eventuated – and all those that could possibly still come true, should I wish them to hard enough.
After dinner I Googled “how to appreciate the present”, and my Internet browser wouldn’t load. “Oh dear,” I thought to myself. “What if I’ve used up all the Internet already? How will I explain that to my flatmates?” And with that I was wandering off into futures unknown and indefinite.
Once my Internet access returned, I stumbled upon Psalm 90, a lament on the slow and painful passage of certain chapters of our lives; of never knowing when relief will come.
“Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away… Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Relent, Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” (Psalm 90:10, 12-14)
If Moses wrote these words more than 2000 years ago, then it seems my condition is in no way unique. Perhaps the modern twist to this conundrum is that with more possibilities come more opportunities to be lost – even on the most sunny, quiet and perfect days.
So I’ve decided that it’s almost impossible to live in a moment. Time in its very nature is transient; we can’t pin it down no matter how we try. I will anchor my present to something greater. I will try to pin each moment to a realisation of how fleeting everything is, how easily it could not have existed, and how simply paths can change. Faces and timelines and paths and pinpoints then become more important – and this never-ending quest to ‘be present’ ceases to exist.
Nostalgia has always been my most heartbreaking folly, but also my greatest ally. And so, if a moment passes me by and I’m not in it – so be it. It is not a mistake to look back, or to dream forward; to remember a face or a place or a moment that is brilliant in the simple fact that it existed at all.
I wish to be grateful – it’s as simple as that.