So it was true. It does pass in a flash: your childhood, your youth, your children’s childhood. One minute it’s 4am at Leith Docks and you and your friend are hanging out watching the sun come up, stretching out the last bottle of beer, singing songs and dodging drunks. Your jeans are torn and your hair shaved and your fingers stained by the cheap rollup tobacco you smoke, wilfully ignorant of how much you will regret that. Then suddenly you are in the same place 30 years later, only now the only thing that has you awake at 4am is insomnia, and this is the place you work and not the place you wander, wonder, love, dream. Now it’s a place you pass through, not really attending to the traces of all those paths taken and untaken. Mostly.
You didn’t know it then, but you were to be lucky, you stumbled through life picking up enough weird experiences to learn a few life-saving tricks. You’ve learnt how to be here, now. Not all the time. Not always when you wish you could. But often enough that life’s challenges and disappointments and grief can be nursed more gently than might have otherwise been the case. You learnt how to switch off the chatter in your head “What do I do now, what’s in this for me, what do they think of me, what happens if I…?”. The endless narcissistic angst that litters our minds, like the detritus defacing city centre streets in the early hours of a Sunday morning. You learnt how to still the memories that seem to shout so loudly so frequently now. You learnt how to turn up the intensity on seeing, hearing, feeling. A series of near death moments (weirdly one every decade, a pattern you hope stops this decade), a professional turn, a love, all helped you hold and practice this skill.
Was it always there, that knack? You remember that time in Loch Awe, on the little island your family holidayed on so often? You roamed all day like a character plucked from Swallows and Amazons. Climbing trees, exploring overgrown gardens from the time when this island was home to a wealthy man’s Gothic baronial fantasies. Adventures were everywhere on this little island, parents calmly unconcerned as you were alone there those precious weeks. You’d explore and craft and swim and forage until exhausted you would collapse on the ground by the crumbling wooden jetty. Lying there on the grass, staring at the sky and listen to the water and the trees and life above, around, and beneath, you sometimes found yourself crying from the being-ness of it. You felt, without words to express it, that this being-ness only really came when the sense of connectedness came. As you lay there overcome by feelings of togetherness with the land and the sky and the water and everything around you, you knew that to be with was to be now.
A few years later, freshly out in the world, you’d feel the same sensation as you watched an old couple struggle against the fierce Edinburgh winter rain. Bent into the wind, legs dragging as if through mud, you suddenly felt so with them, so in their moment, that your heart filled with an unexpected love for them. It came easily in youth, that sudden sense of being-ness and connectedness. In adult years the frequency dropped as life and money and worries and career and all the things that hide the simple being-ness of life buffeted you like that fierce Edinburgh wind. I thought of all this today as I sat on my uncle’s chair. A simple wooden chair he used in his study. A couple of hundred years old, its surfaces rich with layer upon layer of wax and care, its arms rounded from the thousands of hands that have run along them. Without thinking about it, I knew it was a time to switch it back on. Feeling frustrated with myself and life, my past and future living selves noisily tussling in my head, I switched it on without even noticing.
How grateful I am for all the adventures and (far more numerous) misadventures that led me here. If I had not had those reasons to hold and practice that youthful skill would it have died? I shudder to think of that, since I have come to understand that those moments are what protect us from the damage that living in the past or in the future inflict upon us. Living in the past it’s hard to avoid guilt, shame, envy, bitterness. Living in the future breeds anxiety, meanness, fear. But to be here now is to be with, and to be with is to be at peace, to be open, to be free. It provides respite from our past and future living selves, those screwed up creatures endlessly obsessing on their inevitable faltering and failing. As our struggle through the wind gets harder and harder with each passing day, that sense of Being, With, Now, is like the hand of our loved one helping us along the road. And so frustrated, defeated, tired me creeps off into the corner and my Being, With, Now self enjoys the chance to take the stage again, if only (as she knows) for a little time.