As you know, my husband and I moved across town just before Christmas. The apartment we left was the first one we shared together as husband and wife. We moved into it freshly married—6 weeks, in fact—and 2,000 miles away from what we considered “home.”
Two years later, we’ve left that apartment with a dog in tow and a baby on the way. Our lives expanded in that little home. We began the lifelong adventure of figuring out how to love each other well and how to respect one another’s quirks. We made friends there—both the real-life kind and the West Wing character kind. It’s where we had our first married fight and it’s where I told my husband he’s going to be a dad. Places can hold some of our best and truest memories, can’t they?
On our last night in that little apartment, when it was bare and nearly emptied, we watched the movie, Still Mine, which tells the story of an elderly couple’s struggle against local authorities to build their final home. The home they had raised their kids in and run their business from had become too big and overwhelming for them, particularly as dementia plagued the woman, so they found themselves fighting against building regulations to create their final house together.
It was surreal to watch this movie from our first, now empty, home. I was very aware that while the movies’ characters were preparing to move into their final act, my husband and I are, in many respects, just getting started. We are not moving into the home we’ll share with dementia, we are moving into the home we’ll share with our first child. So many adventures, sweet and sour, are still before us, and I don’t know if that had ever been as obvious to me as the night my husband and I sat in our empty apartment, my baby girl kicking at my insides.
In her most recent book, Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist writes:
“Present is living with your feet firmly grounded in reality, pale and uncertain as it may seem. Present is choosing to believe that your own life is worth investing deeply in, instead of waiting for some rare miracle or fairytale. Present means we understand that the here and now is sacred, sacramental, threaded through with divinity even in its plainness. Especially in its plainness.”
That final evening in our apartment, I was reminded of how quickly this all goes by. Right now, we haven’t even seen our daughter’s face and she doesn’t yet have a name. Raising her will be full of hardships and joy, but one day I will feel as if I simply blinked and she will be grown as I meet my final act. That thought is enough to stop me in my tracks. There is something about recognizing where you are, and being fully there, that can change how you are. It makes me want to slow down. I want to spend more time with the people I love and worry less about what ifs. I want to take photos of my baby bump and celebrate every milestone my girl reaches in the womb because oh my God, life moves so fast.
What I loved about the couple in the movie is just because they were entering their final act didn’t mean they were ready for the curtain call. They were still making an impact in their community, in the lives of their children, and with one another. They were still investing in and standing for something they believed in and, through their actions, were teaching their [grown] children and grandchildren important principles. They knew their lives were winding down, but they weren’t over yet.
This is it, people. We’re in this thing. You may be in Act I or the final scenes, but this is all we get. Whether it feels like the world is expanding before you or leaving you behind in the dust, we get to choose how we respond and how present we will be in each day. We can coast on through or, with an awareness of where we are and what we can do with where we are, we can live big and meaningful lives, even in the plainness—no matter what Act we are in.
Mary Oliver asks, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” We don’t have to wait until we’re parents, or working our “dream” job, or building a house in the face of adversity to answer that question. You don’t go to the theatre expecting Act I or II or III to be a bore, so why let that be so with your own life? Where are you today, right now? What reality can you be present to? What people can you be with authentically?
Another new year is upon us. I suppose that means there’s no better time to focus on being present and embracing whatever scene of life we find ourselves in. After all, it’s never too late to start doing big things with your one wild and precious life. Just ask the old man who went to court for the right to build his final home.
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” —Henry David Thoreau