I met a young woman the other day at Trader Joe’s. I had seen her only a short while before at another store in the same shopping center. I was struck by her beauty, and so when I saw her for the second time, I said, “You were just in Whole Foods a little while ago.”
“Yes,” she said, “I was.”
“I noticed you immediately when you walked in, and was struck by your beautiful face.”
She was flustered for a moment, then pointed at me and said, “Well, look at you!”
“Dearheart, we’re not discussing me,” I said, “I look fine, but you are radiant.”
“But that’s just it – I can’t wait to be old,” she replied. Then, fearing she might have insulted me by calling me old, “Well, I mean, I can’t wait to age.”
“Why wait? You’re aging right now, as you stand here.”
“Oh my God, you’re right! This changes everything!”
“Actually, it doesn’t change anything, it just gives you a different viewpoint. You are aging, but if you wait until you feel old, you will have missed out on all the fun of seeing yourself change, and grow, and become. Aging is the process of change. The key to enjoying it is – pay attention.”
So that was the brief conversation I had with the young lady, and we went on our separate ways. I thought about this later, and realized that the exchange, though short, was actually somewhat profound. How often we don’t see what is occurring in our lives as it is actually happening. We may react to it, but we don’t necessarily pay attention to it enough for it to be a catalyst for change, growth or opportunity. Sometimes we get stuck in the moment and we don’t see anything else past it for a long time.
It reminded me a bit of the last act of “Our Town,” a play by Thornton Wilder, in which one of the main characters, Emily, has died. She is with the other townspeople who have passed on, and she wants to go back to revisit just one day on Earth. Not a very important one, just to go back and see everyone. She is warned against it.
When she goes back – for the day of her 11th birthday – she realizes that no one is really seeing one another. “Let’s really look at one another!…It goes so fast….I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed… “
When she gets back to the place where all the passed-on townspeople are, she asks: “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”
She has said her good-bye to Earth in a sweet remembrance of some of the mundane but lovely things in life – clocks ticking, sunflowers, food, coffee, new-ironed dresses, hot baths, sleeping, waking up. And there it is – all the things that we take for granted, don’t even notice – and then we are old.
One of the townspeople says to her: “Yes, now you know… That’s what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those about you. To spend and waste time as though you had a million years…. Ignorance and blindness.”
So – in the middle of sad times, we want them gone. In the middle of good times, we want them to stay forever. But do we really pay attention to either? Do we see them in the haze of our own desire for them to be – or not be – what we do or don’t want?
Pay attention. Take the time to see what is there, and look inside to how you feel, and to what is happening. Sit with it. Be with that specific time, so that it is precious or awful for that moment. You can live with that. You can live much better with that than simply passing it by, and slowly aging without even knowing that that’s what’s been happening.
Paying attention can mean that at the end of your life you will hopefully have lived well, consciously, and that you will not have wasted your time waiting for the next moment to come, while the one you are in is still in front of you.
Age well – en-joy each moment, even the sad stuff. Treat it as if it will never come again. Ha! Pay attention right now, as you sit after reading this. Look in, look out – pay attention.