The Present Tense

Breathing my way through a much needed yoga class this morning, the instructor was encouraging us to be fully present, to be, and breathe in the moment.  As any yoga practitioner will attest, this is often easier said than done.  But I harnessed my bandas and channeled my energy and focused on being in the present moment. At which time I began to contemplate a telephone conversation that I had had with my aunt several months prior.

The day I called her was my late mother’s birthday.  Always at a loss as to how to recognize dates that were once significant but no longer are, I noted the date in my calendar, thought about going to the cemetery, and then ended up calling my aunt, her sister, to chat. The conversation began as it usually did, analyzing the weather, chatting about the latest local grievance , until about five minutes into the conversation, I blurted out: “Today is Mom’s birthday!” There was silence on the other end of the phone. “Yes” was the reply. “I really miss her. I can’t believe it’s been almost 4 years. How old would she be now…?” I queried, knowing full well how old she would have been. Try as I might, Auntie was not going to engage or participate in the conversation. As uncomfortable as she was talking about her late sister, I was becoming equally so trying to elicit a response from her. We went back to talking about the weather and the anticipated events of the week.

Thinking about what had transpired on the phone, I began to mentally rewind previous conversations with her – those that were meaningful or memorable, and some that were mundane and routine. What I noticed most was that our discussions were always based on the present; what is happening now and what is expected to happen in the not too distant future. Mentally alert, my aunt could have an informed and intelligent conversation about Presidential elections, the state of the economy, Obamacare and its impact on future generations of insured and uninsured individuals, and the latest salacious gossip circulating around the Bridge Circle at her local country club. But if I asked her about experiences in the past, or required some sort of historical reference to remember or understand something that happed within our family, she became almost indignant in her refusal to “go there”.

I remembered one conversation I was having with my father and my aunt a few months after my mother had passed. We were discussing a community project my mother had been involved with, and unexpectedly Auntie said “…the program was really doing very well and then, well, your mother went away, and the project just fell apart.” It caught me so off guard that she would say that my mother “went away” rather than simply say “after she died”, but thinking about the way she discussed things both on the phone and it person with me, it sort of made sense.  Going away is a present tense action. It is something that you do that doesn’t carry the same final weight as dying.

Unlike my father, who spent the last year of his life in a long rendition of stories from my childhood, accurately accounting for each event and date with precision and perspective, my Aunt chose to live in the now and look to tomorrow. I don’t think she was showing signs of dementia or Alzheimers. I think she was making a conscious choice to be present and to live her life with what is, rather than what was or what used to be.

Yoga teaches us that by being present and living in the now, we can embrace the greatness of the moment and ultimately have more moments, which I guess translates into a longer and fuller life.  Perhaps that is what kept her going for 92 years – looking forward and not back; planning the garden for next year rather than reminiscing about the beauty of seasons past.


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  1. Sara:
    I’ve just been reading an article in Scientific American MIND lately called: “The Science of Optimism” which agrees with your aunt. It basically says we choose either consciously or unconsciously what we focus on, or how we interpret what happens around us, to determine how we feel about our future.
    I have noticed how I too often remember sad things from my past instead of staying in the present, but I am slowly teaching myself to interpret things around me in a more optimistic light. It’s a basic coping style that works for me!
    Blessings, Laura Lee

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