If you aren’t careful to associate only with pessimists, your Facebook feed may easily become crowded with adorably well-intentioned memes proclaiming “Live in the Moment,” “Carpe Diem,” and other similar maxims. While the cheesier variety reminds me of when Owlet vomited all over her bed last week (I somehow miraculously escaped unscathed despite my extreme proximity, but cleaning it up was majorly unfun and the smell lingers persistently in my memory), when they are worded with particular grace I have been known to repost them myself.
The initial problem is twofold: (1) reading them changes my impression of myself without actually having changed my behavior, and (2) they rarely seem to stick once I come unglued from the screen and return to the part of my life where I actually need such sage advice.
Only is it sage advice? For me, that’s the larger issue.
Sacrilege, I know! Carpe Diem is as close an encapsulation of America’s shared spiritual aspiration as we are likely to get. From materialism to Buddhism, living in the moment is what all the cool kids try to do, right? However unobtainable, however vexing, we strive for moment-oneness and applaud our sporadic attempts, especially when we are knee-deep in children and somewhat desperately seeking fuel to propel us through each day (and night!) of parenting. “It goes so fast!” the elderly ladies quaver, “Treasure each moment while they are this small.” (The elderly gentlemen are less prone to such statements, have you noticed? Maybe because they went through it all without the rosy hormonal hues of matriarchy, poor souls.)
Living in the moment, in the stereotypical interpretation requiring focus solely on what is happening around/to us at that exact second, is not a plausible goal for all of the moments in any of our daily lives. We need to plan ahead. We need to harken back. To suggest that the past and future are unworthy of thought is to be constantly disappointed: we must be lacking essential mental discipline, or need to get to work (be it in an office highrise or the garden at home) in order to eat later, or something equally reprehensible.
Now, before all you would-be Zen masters get your quibbles lined up, allow me to tweak our definition. Pop culture’s dictionary is, as usual, lacking in nuance and subtlety, but I’ve got a compromise up my sleeve. My damp, spit-laden sleeve. (Platypup might be teething.) I don’t achieve it near-often enough, not by a long shot, but here’s what I strive for, in place of that bizarre state without memories or direction:
Find the love in every action. Of course there are so many moments out there where being in the present is blissful. Washing your child’s gorgeous rippling hair. Inhaling a sleepy cat’s yawn-stretch. Climbing into bed with the first rain of the season for company. And all of us have our favorite forward and backward glances, too. Planning home improvements large and small. Selecting coursework for the new semester. Replaying a treasured compliment over and over. Daydreaming about a wedding day long past. But can I find love for the rest? Soothing a savage toddler beast, scraping the bottom of the inspiration barrel for a reluctant student, hustling the whole family out the door for the third time in one day, missing mom on a rainy Monday while folding undiminishing piles of laundry, worrying my cuticles away over lost opportunities, fretting the future. Can I still find the love? Can I put my whole self into each situation with integrity and grace?
Find the love. Put your whole self in. Hokey Pokey Diem.