At the time, as a haughty, first-semester freshman, I remember rolling my eyes. I was forced to sit through a freshman seminar of sorts with the “honors” kids. We were not the cool kids, and I liked to consider myself other than “them.” I probably was, as most of them were far more intelligent than I was. I had a lot to learn, I just didn't know it yet.
Back then, the phrase would help me remember to slow down and really live my last and fleeting carefree years. College was more fun than I had imagined: It contained the start of most of my closest friendships, my first love (and subsequent heartbreak), a widening of my world, and a shrinking of my importance in it. I started a long process of learning to listen, to work hard, to try.
I remarked to Daniel recently that this advice is among the only piece I can think of that has always applied, no matter where I find myself. But not always for the same reason.
When I found myself unexpectedly alone, post-college, overdrawn and unsure of what was next, I cried in my bathtub as those words came whispering back. Be here now. Be present in the stillness, the emptiness, the pain. Listen. Seek. Let the disappointment in, learn from it.
As I’ve grown older, and my life more crowded, this phrase reminds me to use my precious time wisely. That being productive doesn't always look the way it used to. That sometimes reading a stack of library books on the couch is more important than keeping up with the laundry, that going out for milkshakes in our pajamas is more valuable than honoring bed time, that being here through the often monotonous every day of my children’s waning childhoods is more pressing than the career I had and wanted but have chosen to put aside for now.
It reminds me of the importance of taking lengthy phone calls from lifelong friends, of sitting down, slowing down, and looking people in the eye. It constantly reminds me to put my phone down, to be present for the person in front of me, making sure she knows she is more important than all the other things I could be focused on. It reminds me that I don’t have to fill all of our days, don’t have to always say yes and probably shouldn’t, and that I don’t have to feel bad about any of it.
Committing to being here means accepting that things will change, but choosing not to be preoccupied with coming change.
Lately, being here now has been solemn. It has meant not focusing on what might be one day, when things are brighter. It has meant settling into the dim light, the silence, the sadness, the loss. Not offering possible redemption stories ahead of their time. It has meant fear, mourning, open weeping, and quiet rebuttals to a chorus of “of course it’s going to be okay.”
Sometimes it means carrying the heavy burden of the sorrow of those suffering around us because we don’t know what else to do. It means letting all of it take as long as it takes, and feeling every emotion along the way.
Being fully present, "being still and knowing"—all the time—may be the lesson of my life. The hardest one, the one I never really master. I think of it every day. I never would have believed something so simple would take so much consistent effort. But I don’t think there’s another way.
We can’t wish away the pain, the horror, the uncertainty, the doubt or the fear without missing out on the joy. And there’s too much of the former for us to miss even one second of the joy.