A few coworkers and I recently read Atul Gawande's "Being Mortal", which is a fantastic book, but very emotionally difficult, as it dives into the heartbreaking questions around death, disease, and end-of-life care. It's a visceral reminder that none of us are getting out of this life alive. And many, if not most, will endure a pretty rough period of disease, and tremendous hardship to reach their final day.
I picture myself in that end-of-life situation, lying in some hospital bed with terminal cancer, waiting out my final days. I imagine what I'll be thinking about in that situation. I can see myself lying there, staring at the ceiling, willing to give anything to go back in time to better days. The first place I'd go is that precious moment of rocking my two-year-old to sleep. We read a few books, sing a few songs, and answer a few questions about life, "Dada, why the sun goes down to sleep?" He grasps my finger, holds on tight to keep me from leaving his side, and says, "Dada, don't go for a long time." Then falls asleep.
I'd want to go back to the very moment I'm in right now, a moment that won't last forever. I feel a deep need to make the most of this moment, but don't know how, and that weighs heavily on me.
I've asked many people over the years when their favorite time of life was. For those with kids, many of them say that when their kids were young. It was a magical time, and probably the happiest time of their life. There's a connecting smile in the faces of certain older random strangers I come across at a coffee shop, on a train, or just passing on the sidewalk. They admire from afar, smile, and longingly watch as I interact with my little guy in a totally pure, absurd, and infinitely enjoyable way two-year-old interactions unfold. They smile as if to say, "I've been there. Enjoy the moment, because it doesn't last forever." I smile back to say, "I'm trying."
The greatest moment of life might be a certain trip, or the healthy years of retirement, or college. When you find yourself in that moment, how do you truly enjoy it? How can we maximize that time? I know how to make the most of a day, or weekend. With a week or two of vacation, I could design a trip to an old favorite place or a brand new destination and have a great time. But how do you make the most of a two or five year window of time? I don't have answers, but here's what I do know -
First, be present.
There have been nights when I hurry through the bedtime routine because I have work to get done, or feel behind on household duties. That's not being present, it's a mistake, and a moment that I never get back. In that moment, when I'm feeling the need to rush onward, I simply picture my cancer ward situation, which centers me and brings me back to what's important.
Second, be grateful.
Gratitude is a superpower. You can't be cynical and grateful at the same time. You can't complain and be grateful at the same time. Far too many of us are chronic complainers. It's practically en vogue. Instead, I try to cultivate gratitude. A few minutes each day of journaling or meditation about anything and everything I am grateful for enables me to fully enjoy this moment.
Being overly busy makes time speed up. In this moment I want to slow time down and savor it. I'm actively pruning obligations and hobbies that aren't necessary. I'm simplifying life and focusing on this moment.