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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

This Is Life: The Present

Annie Dillard, at the young age of 28, wrote a book that won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a collection of her own reflections on life and nature and faith, the confusing signals she gets from observing creation, the emotional and intellectual battle to respond to worldly stimuli, the wonderings of a woman who wants to know her place in the universe, if she even has one. In one chapter, she describes something she calls "The Present." That's present as one refers to time, not present as in a gift.

The Present, as she describes it, is a sense of reality that is realer than real--an acute awareness of the aliveness of the very moment one finds oneself in, completely devoid of self-consciousness. The Present is rarely more than instantaneous, for as soon as one realizes one is experiencing The Present, it is instantly replaced by awareness of self, which removes its edges and the individual once again finds herself shrouded and suppressed in the mundane.

There have been a few times in my life when I have known exactly that sense of being fully and totally alive in The Present the way Ms. Dillard describes. (I am so tempted to call her Annie, though I don't know that I've ever met her; however once, on a beach, I met a woman of about the same age, throwing a stick into the waves for a boisterous Labrador to fetch, and talking of sea and sand and sky and air and energy and consciousness in a way that reminded me so much of Annie Dillard's thought processes and style that I wondered if maybe it was she. I didn't ask, fearing destroying her privacy no matter who she was. She could have offered her name if she had wanted.) Even that thought interjecting itself into this piece is evidence of how much today has been a day lived in The Present, the swirling, energized, chaotic, emotionally and sensationally present Present.

It was an alive sort of day. Not all of them are.

What's different about today? If I analyze it too much, it will dissipate into the mundane. I know it. But I can't stop myself.

Somewhere in it all is the absolute understanding that today is today, and today is life, and today is valid in and of itself. It is not the "waiting for what comes next" which has described the vast majority of my existence up until this moment. Today had work in it. It had frustration in it. Phone tag and a tussle with a gate lock and a minor burn and mail that still didn't arrive even though it's been promised for days. It had children's needs and laughter and tears and homework that went on too long, a meal that was far below par but accompanied by outrageous laughter and too-loud music, empty refrigerator shelves, a visit from a friend bearing chocolate and an aquarium that will shortly house a mouse I'd rather not meet, and above all else, a compassionate listening ear and heart of love. And that was all real. It had enthusiastic anticipation for an upcoming event and frankness and celebration of the Spirit of reconciliation. Philosophical musing with someone far away, remembrance of a loved one passed on, the heavy promise of mortality, the hope of something much more.

And this is now, and this is real. Today is exactly what it was meant to be. It isn't less. In its lack of being remarkable, it isn't a day to write off as failure to rise to the potential of a remarkable day for a remarkable person with a remarkable life to lead and legacy to leave.

It is what it is, and it is enough. Somehow that realization is more energizing and encouraging to me than if it had been a day of some extraordinary success.

I think that's what Annie Dillard meant when she said she experienced The Present. It is a sense of full experiential awareness accompanied by peace and security in the rightness of the ordinary, which is operating exactly as it should completely apart from any constraint to the clouded perception that distorts our self-centered awareness and makes us cry for something more than what we have been granted.