A Mind Is Like A Kitchen

I’m not a fan of watching the ball come down on New Year’s Eve.

There are so many other ways we measure time that are meaningful: our birthdays and anniversaries; the season we fell in love; or the last time we saw someone we’ve lost.

Instead of making resolutions, I often find a story or a situation from the past year of my life that has made some sort of an impact. Maybe there was something I could have done better, or something that I’d missed. Sometimes I simply learned a lesson to take with me in the days ahead.

The story I am bringing with me into 2013 is a poignant one – one that has taught me to have immense respect for the moment I am living in. Emily Dickinson said that “forever is composed of nows,” and I am compelled to remember that in the coming year.

Like most of us, I have been guilty of living in the past or in the future my whole life. Before the kids went to school I couldn’t wait to have some time to myself, and then when they went to school I couldn’t wait for them to get home. I would drive to the store, lost in the minutiae of the day, barely cognizant of anything but what lay ahead.

When my best friend was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 49, her illness changed my perspective in a meaningful way.

Michele had two girls in high school and a big job at a great company when she was diagnosed. I remember the day she called me from work to express concern at her most recent bout of forgetfulness and I told her it was probably stress or impending middle age. We laughed the way friends laugh when they’re certain that bad things only happen to other people.

Never in the world would I have guessed that the proteins in her brain were beginning to tangle, or that in 8 years she would find it difficult to find her way to the same store she’d been buying groceries in for 20 years. Nothing so tragic, I thought, could happen to one of the most caring, optimistic people I have ever known.

And yet there it was.

Eight years later, she still remembers the people in her life, but these days she lives entirely in the moment. We sit at a diner near her house when I visit and I become the keeper of yesterday’s memories. We don’t talk about the future much because it isn’t important to her any longer. But she always takes my hand and looks me in the eye and tells me how grateful she is for having known me – for all our years of friendship and camaraderie. She is only able to express what she is thinking now and it’s often poignant.

I want to be more like that.

When you think that more than half of us spend half of our time thinking of something else rather than what we are actually doing, you get an idea of the moments we waste.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh insist living in the moment is impossible because in order to feel good, we have to depend on the decisions we made in the past to guide us towards a better future. That might be so, another researcher noted, but the problem is that human beings use their ability to think in different tenses in ways that are not productive and that can be destructive to their happiness.

So, there it is. We’re smart enough to think about what is not happening, but it’s driving us crazy.

Our brains are like the kitchen counter after a Christmas party.

So I’m trying to eat my chicken without thinking of dessert. When I’m sitting with my grown children, I tell myself to soak it all in like a sponge because tomorrow they’ll be heading to the airport and this moment will only be a photograph.

I am trying to give the moment the focused attention a baby has when he is trying to put a spoon to his mouth.

I want to remember that this moment will never happen again and that I have no business ever taking it for granted. It’s what we have. It’s all that truly is.