When I was who I was, I was not satisfied. I took everything I had for granted and wanted more. Now that I am who I am, and no longer have what I had then, I look back in longing for it, and in self-recrimination for not appreciating what I had until I no longer had it. This seems to be an all-too-common human trait, and one which, if you do not yet understand, you surely will.
We tend to assume that life is just...there...all for us. When we are young, we firmly believe that we will be young forever. Life does not come with an instruction manual or a warrantee, and we totally ignore cautions of what lies ahead for us just as we ignore the tiny-print cautions that come on every bottle of aspirin. It is only much later, when it's too late to make any sort of mental preparation, that we begin to realize that life is not a gift, but a pay-as-you-go proposition. Each of us must pay, in some form, for every year we live and, like health insurance premiums, the cost goes up every year. It is not until we are well into our 30s or 40s that it begins to occur to us that the rules of mortality apply to us. The realization is like slowly being lowered into a bath of ice water.
We are far too easily distracted from where we are going by our real and perceived problems. Every human has problems--they're a part of life. Some, of course, are much more serious than others, but while some are life-changing, the vast majority are not. Problems of the moment tend to be exaggerated in our minds because 1) they are our problems, and 2) we are having them now. Once they are past, they generally fade away to relative insignificance, to be replaced by newer problems. But in our obsession with them, and in wasting much more time than necessary on them, we lose perspective on the rest of our lives.
Some species, like ants and bees, seem to share a common awareness. It would be nice if, even as we remained individuals, humans were privy to some sort of similar shared awareness of the true path of our life. Because we are locked within ourselves and spend every instant there, we are not aware of the changes going on within ourselves...the gradual change from who we were to who we are. Seeing ourselves in a mirror each day is an example of this phenomenon. Reflective surfaces reveal these changes, but they are so gradual as to be unnoticed. I, unlike most people, go to great lengths to avoid reflective surfaces out of my refusal to accept what I see there. I therefore can go for months without confronting myself. But when I do, because I do not have the "buffer" of incremental unawareness, I am painfully aware of the changes between what I see now and what I saw the last time.
I don't want to be who I am now. I want to be who I was, once. And the full awareness that I never will be, never can be, does not stop me from wanting, or reduce the intensity of that want. And yet I find myself slowly coming to what I hope to be an...accommodation...with myself. No matter how old we are, we are never going to get any younger, but by the same token, we are, at this moment, as young as we will ever be, and I am determined to enjoy whatever it is--and there is much--I have now. I can't do anything at all about the past, but I can have considerable control over my future. I plan for it (a European river cruise next summer, the completion of my current book and a string of subsequent books stretching as far into the future as time will allow me); I try not to put off things I want to do by falsely assuming I will have "plenty of time" in which to do them. I may not, and this is as true of you as it is with me.
To say "time is precious" is to repeat one of the oldest and most overused of cliches. But like most cliches, it became a cliche because it is true. And I relate my awareness of the value of time to my habit of, when seeing a penny on the sidewalk, stooping to pick it up. Not because I need the money, but because like time, it is there, it has value, and it should not be wasted.
I will never be who I was when I was, but I'll do my best to be who I am.
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