Here I am in the last month of my pregnancy, and I find myself feeling how every soon-to-be-mother feels at this stage—in a position of waiting. My tummy is heavy, my movements are unsteady and slow, and I have shooting nerve pains down the sides of my legs. I just want this baby to come out already! Of course I know it is not time yet, and I want my baby to “finish cooking” before its arrival, but there is a reason they say the last month of pregnancy seems to last forever.
I know I am not alone in this sentiment. Besides waiting for a baby to arrive, there are many other times in life where we, as human beings, are just looking over the horizon for the next thing. Anticipation for a big event, for the next major milestone is a regular part of life. As a kid, we get excited (or sometimes anxious) at the thought of our upcoming birthday, a family trip, breaks from school, the move to a new neighborhood, advancing to the next grade, etc. As adults, we are even more forward thinking: “When I get my bonus, I can do x,y, and z.” “When I start my new job, everything will change.” “When I find the right guy, then I can really start my life.” “When I have children, then I will finally feel fulfilled.”
We are so busy looking to the future that we often forget how to appreciate the now. It is a constant struggle to fully live in the present. There is a sort of contentment to be found in life’s everyday moments, but we actually have to stop and pay attention to see it.
This concept was really brought to life for me by Katrina Kenison, who is a popular memoir writer. She writes about motherhood, but not in the way most authors do. Her books appeal to me because she focuses on the small and commonplace moments that make up the majority of our lives as mothers. She reminds me to slow down and savor each stage of life with my family. In her second book, The Gift of an Ordinary Day (a very apropos title), she speaks about a quality she admires in her teenage son. She says, “While I tend to try to squeeze the most from every day and often come up short, he allows each day its own slow unfolding. And it is this, I realize, his innate ability to be glad for whatever is, without wishing for something more or something else, that makes this uneventful…day a good one.”
If we are always looking to the next moment, we might miss the important things that are happening right now. All of a sudden, we might be left wondering, ‘When did my child get so old? How did time pass so quickly?’ It all happens when we aren’t paying attention. I remember a Variations song I listened to when I was younger that is to the tune of a popular 70’s song,“Cats in the Cradle”. The chorus went something like this: “And the cat’s in the cradle and the red balloon, little boy Dov grew up so soon, ‘When can we learn, Dad?’, ‘I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, son. You know we’ll have a good time then.’” The verses went on to describe scenes of the little boy growing up into a man, and each time he would ask his father to learn with him, his father would tell him they would at some point, but not right now. Before he knew it, his son was grown and so many opportunities to learn together had passed him by. The song has a bittersweet ending – they talk on the phone long-distance to learn, and the last line is, “It’s never too late to start, yeah, it’s never too late to start.”
The message of this song has stayed with me, even though I heard it when I was a child, too young to really appreciate it. Life goes by in a flash. We need to value the time we have now, before it is too late. And we can start doing this right now!
My husband once read me a story about a man who had amassed wealth, but never let his wife spend any of it. He seemed to always be saving his money for a rainy day. They lived an extremely thrifty lifestyle and she had to scrounge around as if to make ends meet. She ended up dying young, and the man regretted that his wife never had the chance to enjoy the money that could have made her life so much easier and pleasant. When he remarried, he allowed his second wife to spend on whatever her heart desired.
This story made me sad, for even though the man realized his mistake, it was too late for his first wife to benefit. She ended up living a very hard existence, when he could have made it so much better for her. Had he been more willing to allow his first wife to enjoy some of the fruits of his labor, instead of hoarding it for some far off future, her life would have been much more pleasurable.
Another amazing writer and inspirational speaker, Rachel Macy Stafford is known as the “Hands Free Mama”, which is also the name of her blog and her first book. She writes about living in the moment from a different angle. She speaks more about learning to slow down, throwing away the do list, putting away the distractions, and focusing on what is really important in life. She spent a lot of her early married life multi-tasking, overachieving, constantly stressed out, and putting life’s millions of errands before her family. She always had a device in her hand, and her family never had her full attention. Eventually she burnt out. She had gotten to the point where she realized that life was passing her by and she was missing all of it. She noticed that she was telling herself that someday she would have time for all the things she wanted to experience with her family, but at the pace her life was going, that day would never come. She was missing pivotal moments in her life and that of her family. She barely had time to connect with her husband and children, as she took on too much and her plate simply had no room for them. As busy mothers in today’s day and age, many of us can relate—we are the ones in charge of our family’s myriad of appointments, meals, playdates, sports competitions, school plays, etc. It is so hard to put down the to-do list and just “be”.
Stafford has now made it her life’s mission to recognize the gift of today and help others to do so as well. As she explains, “When I was living distracted, I took time for granted. It was as if I had some magical power that guaranteed time would never run out. So I continually put things off—not my ‘urgent’ daily tasks like phone calls, emails, thank-you notes, and cleaning duties. No, I put off the important things. ‘When I get this project finished, I’ll spend time with the family’ or ‘When I get caught up, we’ll do something fun together’ were just a few of the empty promises I rattled off with ease. I probably would have continued to postpone living had it not been for this undeniable reality: there was always another project; there was no catching up; there was no slowing down…I realized that phrases like ‘maybe later’ and ‘in a minute’ didn’t just cost a few precious seconds; they cost me a future—a future relationship with the people I loved and precious future memories of time spent together.”
Stafford realized that when she slowed down the pace of her life, and started enjoying the “mundane” moments, her world became richer and more enjoyable. The “everyday moments of daily life” would be the ones her children remembered and cherished. She was able reconnect with her family and enjoy the little things—snuggling on the couch, having a meaningful conversation while waiting for the bus, cooking dinner together. She decided that there was no use in waiting for a good time to invest in her relationships—she would now live and love every single day with purpose. And it changed her entire outlook on life.
We can find great value in the quiet moments of life. Why should we wait until the next vacation to enjoy our families and our lives? Let’s use the opportunity we have now. Let’s call out to our child and invite him on a walk. Let’s put aside our cell phone and read a story to our toddler instead. Let’s show our loved ones how much we care RIGHT NOW. There really is no time like the present.
As Jews, we have been given an entire twenty five hours of Shabbos each week to spend time with those we love. We are not only required to turn off the outside world and all of its distractions, but we are not allowed to discuss future plans either. We are forced to focus on the here and now and all of the blessings Hashem has given us. What an amazing and unique opportunity that G-d has bestowed us with! He has built the time to recharge and refocus into our very existence as Jews! It is like a mini-vacation every single week. Our whole family sits down together to eat, sing, learn, catch up on the goings-on of the previous week, and really reconnect. Let us make sure that we utilize this beautiful gift properly, and allow it to carry over into the rest of our week.
Let us not squander these beautiful chances to live and love in the present. We should constantly remind ourselves to slow down and not get caught up in the fast pace of the outside world. Let us not always be rushing toward the future, but enjoy the time we have now. Let us savor each moment of our lives and not miss the memories that are happening right in front of us. Let us look for ways to spend quality time with our loved ones. And let us learn to appreciate the special gift of an ordinary day.