Everyone knows those cliché phrases:
live everyday like there is no tomorrow / live in the moment / live today and let tomorrow look after itself
and other such pointless offerings that are entirely irrelevant to the way most people have to live their lives. Choose and want to live their lives. After all, tomorrow and the next day and the next – let alone the following weekend, the subsequent month are, in the normal way of things, often so much richer than the present moment. We live with diaries and calendars – on the wall, on our phones, our computers, in our minds. Always there’s a date or a time to look forward to, either in fact or in aspiration.
If we’re lucky, there’s a holiday booked and already a corner of our mind is focusing on that – a count down of months, into weeks and then days, planning clothes to take, books to read, with images of case packing and airport arrivals filling duller days and lodging pleasantly at the periphery of our thoughts. Or there’s that reunion with friends that is planned, a theatre visit, the shopping trip, the family get-together, someone’s birthday, someone else’s party – all events that naturally and inevitably constantly propel us ahead of the day we are actually occupying.
How much of any day is spent thinking of one that lies ahead in the near or only a little distant future?
And now we can no longer do that.
Or at least not with any precision. We have no idea when we will next be able to browse shops, sit in a cafe, moan about flight delays, apologise to the cat for going away, panic the night before we leave because for some reason it’s essential to ensure the house is far tidier and neater in our absence than it ever is when we’re actually there.
There’s no ooh it will be so nice to go and see that film this weekend/ can’t wait until next week when I’m meeting up with parent/son/daughter/grandchildren/exotic lover/actually getting my hair cut so I look civilised again. Those phrases are entirely removed and redundant.
The immediate future is stalled. On hold. And so our habit of always having something to look forward to has disappeared too.
We are, in fact, living a little like very young children.
You know what it was like when your 3 year old asked you when are we going to the seaside/the farm park/on that picnic you promised/to the swimming pool/to the zoo/the adventure playground?
And you knew it was no good saying to him or her in a week’s time/in 3 months/at the end of the summer?/when it’s your birthday.
Because a very young child’s concept of time does not extend to these dimensions. They live in the moment because that’s all they can do. Even the idea of you can’t eat the sweets/chocolate/sensible- heatlhy -alternative -but -dressed- up -as -something- fun -snack /because they are for later after tea meets with at best bewilderment, at worst total meltdown in the middle of town.
Similarly, the very young child’s emotions tend to switch rapidly and spontaneously since it’s only that immediate moment and what they are feeling then that counts. Wild tears one moment, laughter and giggles the next with the sadness of 5 minutes earlier subsumed by a cuddle, a tickle, a small treat. Emotional chameleons, you could say.
And I find I’m moving through these strange days in a similar way – positive and optimistic one moment, charged with productivity and enthusiasm, and the next virtually reduced to tears when the hovering assistant in Waitrose accuses me of queuing in the wrong place (they are much less officious in Aldi …and the Cava is cheaper.) I can switch from feeling contented with long days devoted to completing all the tasks around the house that need doing – to feeling a sense of raw panic at not knowing when I can next walk London streets.
Or is this just me? Am I the only one finding this return to a 3 or 4 year old’s concept of time an emotional rollercoaster?
Anticipation, the source of so much mood-enhancing and raising of spirits, is currently off limits to all of us and it’s hard to adapt.
I suppose one way of cheating the mind’s present confinement is looking ahead to the day when anticipation returns and calendars and diaries became functional again.
Yes, that will have to do. Planning our first days of freedom and looking forward, however unprecisely, to the day when we are released from a young child’s timeframe and can inhabit once again the consoling adult way of always living ahead of ourselves!