Think about someone you love.
Maybe this is a spouse, a boyfriend, an ex-girlfriend or almost-girlfriend, a roommate, a parent, best friend, sibling or neighbor.
When was the last time you felt annoyed or angry or upset with them? What was it that you felt frustrated over?
We’re constantly getting irritated with the people we love. Maybe it’s because we know them the best – and the same for them – that they’re the ones most able to get under our skin. Maybe it’s because we’re so comfortable around them that we feel we can drop our guard and snap at them when we’re annoyed. Maybe it’s something entirely different. No matter the reason, we’re often complaining to, at or about them about the things that bother us each day.
And our frustrations are endless.
The mail hasn’t been checked. The place hasn’t been vacuumed. The dog hasn’t been taken out. The dinner reservation hasn’t been made. The holiday cards haven’t been sent.
We drive ourselves crazy in other ways too – like with the anguish we feel over someone who’s left us. Or how many times have we pored over a single text message to someone new, trying to get it just right, trying to get it to not be too long, too intense, too anything that might push them away? How much anxiety have we riddled ourselves with thinking about the last words we said to someone on the day of a breakup and how we wish that they had been different?
This isn’t to say that they won’t. Maybe that missed dinner reservation was for an important business meeting and as a result we never landed that client. Maybe the person we spent all that time crafting a text to ended up being the one who we married. There is a beautiful theory that every choice produces an explosion of paths that we could go down next, and with each choice that follows, the paths we didn’t take die off and burn away while another set of paths break open in front of us like fireworks. If this makes you feel like every choice matters, or that no choice matters, either way, I think you are right. I’m not here to say that you are not.
But the biggest thing that I want to focus on here is how much we get caught up in trivial bullshit. How upset we allow ourselves to get when we see that the dishes haven’t been put away, that the tub needs to be cleaned, that there are no parking spaces in the driveway.
How upset we allow ourselves to get when someone we loved, for a finite period of time, has left us, for what will be a finite period of time, be it a year or our forever.
And how upset we do not tend to get about wasting or taking for granted our large lives.
How about we reduce our pettiness and push ourselves to see outside of the confines of a moment – a week, a month – and look bigger and wider, so wide that we can see the whole span of our life and all the things that have meaning? Are we able to handle human thought that’s so expansive? Do we have the capacity to really feel something so uninhibited or untethered by time or space?
I think we do.
But the way we have to go about it will bring about a lot of discomfort. Because the way we have to go about it is that we have to think about death, plainly and without fear.
When I say we have to think about death, I don’t mean that we should catastrophize, trying to predict, trying to control, assuming the worst and spiraling ourselves into such a state of frenzy and terror that we can’t so much as think about it again. What we have to think about is our impermanence as what it is, in the scale of our life in our personal and very short time on this Earth, and in the scale of our life against all the time that Earth has existed. What we have to think about is the impermanence of everyone we love as what it is.
Because here’s the thing: thinking about death and our impermanence and the impermanence of those we care about deeply is what allows for true appreciation of the here and now.
And when we allow ourselves to appreciate the here and now, we give ourselves the room to step back from whatever petty frustration we’re currently dealing with and be thankful for something much larger.
Think about that person you love.
The girlfriend who takes so long to get ready that you both are always late.
The spouse who picks up the wrong kind of toilet paper at the grocery store.
The ex who you wrathfully want an apology from.
Because at some point, inevitably, they won’t be safe, just as at some point, inevitably, so won’t you.
Maybe on some subconscious level, we like to distract and numb ourselves from the here and now, because despite its certainty, the idea of our death can be terrifying. Maybe there’s something self-protective about constantly becoming aggravated with small things, because it keeps us from having to think about anything too overwhelming.
But how do you want to spend your time here? Your finite time, with all of its choices exploding like fireworks, with all of its possibility and impermanence and meaning?
I want to spend mine grateful for my now, so that I can be grateful for my small forever. I’ll bet that you do too.