on forgetting the moment

When I worked with teenagers preparing for college I would see anxiety spread across their faces as they relayed to me the recycled, These will be the best years of your life. The advice would come from adults they respected and adults they shunned, so it seemed to be some universal truth: the next four years are the best of your life. This would inevitably produce panic about the choice of college which seemed even more grave a matter than it already had to be, but the occasional senior would ask, Really, Jen, is it true?

And I would say no. Can you imagine your life peaking at age twenty-two? Yikes, what a message.

I heard the same thing, of course, and I'm convinced it comes from well-meaning individuals who didn't really live their college years well and when they had the chance. They have regrets. And so life afterwards is tainted. They want to go back and do that again. 

I had an unbelievably good time in college. I became a studious person, rowed on the crew team and traveled the nation, tried almost every legal activity once, and got in just enough trouble to keep me out of the clinker. I tried a dozen things and failed. I tried a dozen more and succeeded. I think I squeezed every bit of life out of my four years at university so there's nothing for me to return to.

Likewise, I think any good thing valued for what it is at the time can be let go when the time passes. My wedding day? The only parts I want back are those I didn't fully enter into. The portions I gave myself over to are an easy joy as I recall them. But even then, I can't quite grasp the sound of Hawk's voice as he spoke his vows or the sound of the string quartet playing Gounod's Ave Maria as I walked down the aisle.

The memory of our wedding ceremony is so sweet and real to me because I was intentionally present as it passed, not because I can recall its thousand details precisely.

So I have to ask how much I will remember of this fleeting time having babies in the house and I am left with the reality -- I am going to forget things as time passes. Whether I enter into these moments with my children or I allow other matters, less important matters like to-do lists, creative works, books to read, etc., to distract me, in ten years I will recall about the same amount of detail. But by entering into them, savoring them as they pass through my life, I will be left with the very real experience of them, and I believe this whole-hearted experience is what gives us truly happy memories and barricades against regret.

When I rock Poppy to sleep, I make sure to take in her sounds, her movements, knowing that I will never have them this way again. And when Ace reads on my lap or rushes up to hug me of his own volition, I know that I will lose the perfect knowledge of how it feels but I will forever possess the experience itself. And it changes me.

A friend alerted me to the very very brief time of "newborn-ness." She said, We all think it lasts a month or more but really, the newborn is gone in a matter of one or two weeks and they have grown into babies. Don't miss it. Stay in bed holding that little life as long as you can. Leave the house a mess and hold that baby and stare at that face." So I did. I held Ace in bed for ours, just holding and staring and enjoying. I held him on the couch, as I walked through the house. The same with Poppy. And sure enough, they quickly grew into their baby-selves but I wasn't sad to see the newborn leave because I drank every drop that I could feasibly drink from that time.

And thus, I could recognize the supreme value of the next phase.

What do you think? Is life over at twenty-three (and perhaps why so many of us have a quarter-life crisis)? Or is there a way to continue on after a good time without going downhill?

I'm eager for your thoughts!

Happy Monday, friends.


1 comment:

  1. Beautifully said. I lost my second child last year but was blessed, if you can call it that, with the knowledge that it was happening. I was able to savor it, all those precious moments I'll never have back. I, too, am forgetting the details, but I was totally into every second with my daughter so I don't feel I've lost the memories themselves.

    Thank you for writing about this. It sounds as though you're familiar with loss in some way.


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