When I got home from work, I stepped into the bedroom and noticed that I’d already laid out my clothes for the night.
It was going to be a big night. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks, in fact. How long had it been since I’d enjoyed a night out of the house?
I was happy for Jeannie. No one knew, of course, whether or not her book was going to be a success, but at this stage, it hardly mattered. She had finished the book, had let it fly, and it had landed in the lap of someone who loved it- and, more importantly, who could publish it.
I put on my brown striped tie, then swapped it out for the red one.
I smoothed my hair one last time, checked my teeth for food, ran a lint roller through my peacoat, and was out the door.
Everyone was here, it seemed. It was nice that they all came for the successes, too. At one point, I had wondered if we were only ever going to see each other at funerals. We all talked, occasionally, but it was mostly when so-and-so got divorced, and it’s a crying shame, and I’m worried about them, and what can we do to help them?
The hall was done in a modern style, with high ceilings and exposed rafters. Every corner of the room was white. It felt a bit sterile, but clean.
I caught a glimpse of Jeannie standing on the industrial metal stairs, talking to someone-or-other in a tailored suit. She was standing on the step above him, so that she towered over him, even though he was taller. It was a power move she’d heard about in a seminar somewhere. She was drinking wine. She never drank wine.
Her eye caught mine, and she winked with a subtle, almost imperceptible smile. I went to the bar to get a drink, and soon found myself surrounded by old acquaintances.
We talked about the weather, we talked about the kids. We talked, inevitably, about the old days. About Jeannie’s newfound success.
My thoughts started to wander. I went outside for a cigarette, and lingered, alone, for longer than was probably acceptable.
What would she do now? What was the encore to be? This was what she’d always wanted, but now that she had it, where to go? She’d probably write another book, of course, but when? Would she take time off to soak it all in? Take a trip? Find some Dominican stud on a beach and act like a teenager on spring break for a couple of weeks? Perhaps.
Probably. I smiled as I lit another cigarette. She deserved it.
“I was wondering where you’d gone.”
I turned to see Jeannie standing in the doorway. Her long black dress was a bit tight for my tastes, and she knew it. She still looked amazing, though. She was glowing, but whether from the wine or the adulation, I couldn’t tell.
“Sorry. Just stepped out for a minute.”
“A minute? You’ve been out here for an hour and a half.”
I checked my watch. She was right. How had I been out here that long?
“Well, shall we, then? There’s still quite a few people I haven’t caught up with.”
“You’ll have to do it another time then. Everyone’s gone home. The party’s over.”
I dropped Jeannie off at her apartment and went home. The night I had so been looking forward to somehow felt like a waste. Nothing had really happened, and it hadn’t been as thrilling as I’d thought to see the old crew. Now, I was home, and tomorrow was just another day. I sat down at my desk and pulled up my calendar, trying to find the next thing to look forward to. A business trip to some fancy resort next month. That could be fun. May 28th. 42 days.
I went to the cupboard to find a drink. I’d finished off the scotch, apparently. Nothing to drink but milk and water, and some hot cocoa left over from the kids’ last visit.
I heated some milk and made myself a cup of cocoa, then turned on the fireplace. I sat for a few minutes watching the flames crackle.
The cup was warm between my hands, and I wondered at the way that the warmth spread through the rest of my body, entering from my fingertips, slowly making its way through me. The cocoa was delicious. I hadn’t had cocoa in years, and I’d forgotten the sensation. I held every sip in my mouth, letting the liquid cool and come to rest on my tongue.
I realized then that I was enjoying this moment more than I’d enjoyed any moment at the party.
I spent all of last week with my daughter. I devoted the entire week to her, in fact (well, her and her brother). We spent much of the week catching up on her new favorite show (The Secret Circle, for those wondering). It was a simple and extremely joyful pleasure, lying on the couch watching horrible TV with my daughter strewn across my lap. Occasionally, I pretended not to get what was going on so that she could have the pleasure of explaining it to me.
Inevitably, my mind began to wander. I began to think of how long this would last. She’s eight now, which means that soon, Daddy won’t matter. The days of her wanting to spend all day with me are numbered.
Luckily, I like to practice mindfulness. I like to be in the moment. Because I spend so much time honing that technique (though there’s so much room for improvement), I was able to drag my mind back into the present.
Later, I began to drift off again. This time, I landed in more optimistic settings. I thought of her college days, how much fun she would have. I thought of her calling me to tell me of her experiences and her problems and 4how I would make everything better. It was a wonderful little daydream.
The problem is, whether where my mind wanders is a place of joy or sorrow, that wandering has its costs.
Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths.
~ Charles H. Spurgeon
As it turns out, we are only happy when we are focused on the here and now. Letting out mind wander, even to a good place, robs us of happiness.
Matt Killingsworth has been studying this sort of thing. The results are in: letting your mind wander unequivocally makes you less happy.
Happiness, of course, isn’t the only benefit to living in the moment. It also aids attention and overall health.
Regret can only live in the past. It cannot survive the fresh air of the present. Likewise, anxiety can only live in the future. It is a poisoned carrot, always dangling in front of us. What we don’t realize is that we’ll never reach it. What this — all this — is truly about is turning our gaze from the dangling carrot to the ground beneath our feet. There, on the very ground we walk on, amazing things are happening. Things are living, growing, thriving- but it’s only happening here, now.