This will end and you will miss it. I have repeated this to myself thousands of times, during all the bad parts. The hard parts, the boring parts, the unpleasant parts. The bad parts of some larger, fleeting whole. In a library tower during finals week my senior year of college. When we’d been hiking for eight hours and my legs hurt and my feet were wet in New Zealand. When I’d been sitting on a bus for 12 hours winding through Argentinian countryside and still had ten hours before I could get off. This will end and you will miss it.
It got at two important aspects of gaining perspective — first, that the moment would end. You were stressed or exhausted or uncomfortable or in pain, but at some point you wouldn’t be. At some point it would be over. And second, that there would come a time in the future, be it years or days away, where you would pine for this. Long for it. Because finals week meant I was still in college. Cold, wet feet meant I was still in the backcountry of New Zealand. Double-digit hour bus rides meant I was traveling around South America. It helped get you through the bad parts, to remind yourself that each unpleasant moment did not exist in isolation, that each one was part of something larger, of something more. Of something valuable and wonderful and temporary.
The worst part of missing something is the absolute helplessness — wanting something so badly and not being able to have it. As much as you want to will something into being with your mind, you can’t. You can’t make that person walk through the door. You can’t bring back that byegone period in your life. You can’t instantly transport yourself to that place you love. The feeling of missing something is powerlessness, and we can’t stand it.
I did an experiment, when I was lying in my tent in New Zealand one night, surrounded by three friends, staring up at the yellow inner ceiling up above me, the paracord stretched across it hanging low with the weight of headlamps and wet socks and watches with alarms set to 7 in the morning. I could experience it, fully, corporeally, the ache I would someday feel for this exact moment. I imagined myself sitting in my room at home, wishing with everything I had that I could be back here, back out in the wild. I knew I would feel it and I knew it would claw at me, and I knew that in those future moments, whenever they were, that I would want and want and want to be in New Zealand and not be able to. It would be gone, the people that surrounded me would be gone, this moment would have passed.
And so lying there, in the tent, I felt the full power of that ache, as if I was in the future missing this moment, but when I looked around, I wasn’t in my room unable to reach it, I wasn’t far forward and impossibly detached. I was still here. I was still in it. I felt all the tugs of missing something in their absolute and authentic power, and I was able to have it. I was able to have the one thing you want when you miss something — to go back, to be there. I had the impossible. And suddenly the yellow above my head looked a little brighter, the faces of my friends laying in sleeping bags next to me in clearer focus. I was here. I had felt the full strength of missing something while I was still in it. And because of that, it all seemed like a miracle.
This elaborate mental exercise, this tricking yourself into time travel — all it really boils down to is appreciating where you are. It means looking up, looking around. It means taking it all in. It means being in the moment while you still can. When you miss something you still have, that thing feels larger, brighter, more intense. You can see it both as something that is happening to you and as something that you will long for later. It makes you hold on tighter, makes you look longer, makes you It makes the good parts feel better and the bad parts feel not so bad. It makes regular life feel a little bit like a miracle.
I feel that now, that present nostalgia, in my last months living on the East Coast. I feel it when I’m driving out to the island at night, and I begin to lose focus because I have taken the turns so many times and it all just feels automatic. I am thinking of five minutes ahead, when I will open his front door and go inside and take off my boots, walk up the stairs, and climb into bed next to him. I am thinking of that and not of the moment I am in, of the mundane drive, of the night sky swirling above me, of the black seawater below. I forget to pay attention, forget that not long from now I am sure I will long to be in the moment just before I am about to see him, when I know he is right across the bridge, right around the corner. When I am on my way and will be there soon.
This will end and you will miss it. I think it to myself as the impatience of the long drive washes away, as I look up at the stars, as I feel the quiet of the darkness surrounding the bridge. And it does suddenly feel like a miracle. Even this moment when I’m not actually with him. It won’t be the first one I miss, it won’t be the obvious one, it won’t be one I play over and over. The drive so casually occurs minutes before I will see him, it is so taken for granted now, so hurried through. But some day, in the future, when I am gone, it will seem like the most beautiful gift. That moment of being close, of being almost there.
We have to pause, not just in the obvious moments that we will miss, but in the small ones, the meaningless ones, the dull ones. The ones that would normally be relegated to the before, the after, the in-between. They count too and we can either spend them being frustrated and impatient, looking at them through a zoom lens, or we can realize what they are, part of a larger moment, and spend them grateful and amazed.
So slow down. Look around. Don’t just go through the motions. Long for things the things that you have while you have them. Appreciate the moments that seem unimportant or irritating. Because they too, are part of this. Of whatever this is. And like everything else, this will end, and for one reason or another, you will miss it.