“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon, you were so right. We human beings have a tendency to spend almost an entire lifetime with one foot in the past and the other in the future, and in doing so, the present moment continually whizzes by so quickly that it’s barely registered. Like a speeded up video of a motorway, where the taillights are streaming: long, meandering streaks of red. We never see the present until it becomes a memory, part of our past to be dissected and reflected upon. Sometimes regretted, other times remembered fondly, a mental image wrapped in the soft glow of rose-tinted nostalgia.
My eldest daughter and I arrived home a short time ago and, in my usual breakneck style, I grabbed the vacuum cleaner from the cellar head and motored it around the kitchen and living room with the dog chasing me, barking and attacking the machine. My daughter screamed and laughed, jumping onto the settee with her legs pulled up out of the way. I laughed, it was funny, this hectic domestic scene that is just how we live. Mad dogs and frantic cleaning carried out in and amongst the mountain of other daily tasks I try my best to plough through.
My daughter will be leaving home in a few short years. At sixteen and a half, I am eminently aware of the fact that she will soon be flying the nest, and these times – the silly times, with the barking dog and the vacuum cleaner that nearly clips her painted toenails as she leaps out of its path – they won’t last forever. It’s these times that are our lives; these are the bits that matter.
In the old days, with a bottle of wine inside me, I would drift off into a fantasy world, not present, no longer in the here and now. The morning after I would be consumed with that bad head and dry mouth and dragging sense of lethargy, and I would barely speak. I was unable to fully notice my life, or my daughter’s. Sinking in the quicksand of alcohol and an insidious dependency on it, it didn’t occur to me that I never, ever spent a moment in my present: perpetually fearful, anxious or regretful, or longing, planning, lusting after that next glass.
The second that just flashed by was the only one that mattered. Now it’s this one, and this one, and this one. They dissipate like a puff of smoke, and you have to train yourself in order to grab them, fleeting and precious, unique. I could never do that when I drank, I didn’t even have any awareness that I should be doing that. But yes, John Lennon, you were so right – life is what happens while we are busy making other plans, or worrying about what we did last night, or when we might be able to open that bottle that is sitting patiently in the fridge. It’s passing us by all the time, like a relentless steam train, and it’s not going to stop for anyone.