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Embracing the Forever of Now: Finding Meaning in the Present Moment

"What is forever but a stringing together of the now?"


He finds you in a state of disrepair. You speak first on the phone and cry from a place so deep he is unfamiliar with it. Crying is not new; you do this freely, but this soul-crying is novel. He offers to leave right then to take two Bolts and a ferry to get to you. You decline out of exhaustion but are buoyed by the offer.


In your purging of despair, you repeat, “I’m so tired. I don’t really want to do it anymore.”  The it?  At this level of despair, the it to which you refer is life.  There are moments, hours, and sometimes days when it all feels too much.  And trying feels senseless and without redemption or reward.  Your existential awareness leaves you teetering on the edge of this most days.  When you plummet into despair, the teeter-totter crashes to the ground, as when a mischievous playmate jumps off and sends you down with a thud.


The gratitude for all that is good in your life has no home here.  Fear has ushered in self-hate, and self-hate has gone to work on you, leaving your body and spirit depleted, ailing, and cowering in the corner as if you are a victim—your power relinquished to this unseen force. 


The object of the fear is money.  Although the object is material, it is immaterial.   It could be anything.  When you are not consumed in the process of fear, you can have a supportive and truthful conversation with yourself and bring yourself into the present moment, where everything is fine.  When you are slow cooking in fear stew, you believe its unhelpful jabs, insults, and nevergonnabes.


A couple of days later, when he arrives, he finds you in a weakened state and hugs you tightly.  He knows this is the first order of business.  You both wonder if the embrace will snap your fragile skeleton.  He carries a heavy pack of water.  He will walk to the market and buy you food.  He will hold you.  Cook for you. Comfort you.  Love you.  Show concern for you.  Visit multiple pharmacies for the Imodium you need to stop your gut from emptying the life-giving water you need.  To stand, to eat, to sleep, to live.   You show him the most vulnerable of your vulnerabilities without compunction. 


He speaks your name often, with a comical urgency.  And then emphatically exclaims, “I love you!”  He repeats it.  Sometimes five times.


He addresses you using Turkish terms of endearment: Askim, my love; Canim, my darling; Birtanem, my one and only; Melegim, my angel; and finally, Kirstenim, my Kirsten. 


He hugs you often and tightly and holds on.  Often, he breaks first, and to his credit, it could take some time for you to break the embrace.


He kisses you.  Gently, firmly, forcefully, passionately, playfully, looking into your eyes, his hands holding your face, in a deep embrace, hello and goodbye, good morning and good night, and just because he knows.


He slow-dances with you in the kitchen, holding you close and fitting snugly within your interior as you wrap your lanky body around his, lean into him, and let your face fall into his neck. You sway in unison without effort. You rest upon him, eyes closed, breathing him in. 


He smooshes and squozes you.  Laying his body atop yours for the smoosh, wrapping his arms underneath and around for the squoze to create a swaddle inspired by the Temple Grandin hug machine.  When you see him coming in for the smoosh and squoze with a smile and a twinkle in his eye, you gamely get into position to receive this, your favorite intimate act that can only be entrusted to someone you trust.  He has acclimated to the subtle difference between too much and too little.  Not his full weight restricting your breath, but almost.  Being without this during time apart makes your cells wither with starvation.


He comes in late from work, trying to be quiet so as not to startle you awake in your tiny apartment, the door a mere arm’s length from where your sleeping feet lie.  In the morning, he proudly informs you that you slept and that he did not touch you.  He did not “wake up you” from your sensitive, tenuous slumber.  He also then chides that you did not hug him even when you did.  Because in the area of hugging, less is not more.  And this is his sense of humor.  To accuse you of not doing things that you gamely do--of not doing enough, because for him, maybe enough does not exist.


You awake at least twice each night, and on the days he is next to you, you find his warm, comforting body with its buttery skin and intoxicating smell and press your body up against him.  You bring yourself into the present and remind yourself that this is the stuff of life.  For you, this is it.  Don’t miss it by kicking around in your thoughts.  Wishing you were asleep or whatever other misgivings the conditioned mind raises about what it would rather. 


One night, you awake at 2 a.m.  You did not hear him come in.  Where is he?  What has happened?  It’s way too late for him not to have returned from work—your body courses with worry and adrenaline.  And then you check the other side of the bed, and his nude body is there.  Asleep.  Thank God.  He is okay.  Everything is OK now. 


In the morning, before you get your coffee and figs, picked by him and brought to you from the market that has the good figs, you wrap yourself around him in the perfect set of nested spoons—your skin, your bodies, your smells, your breath all a comfort to each other. He grabs your hand and pulls it close as if your body can somehow embed itself into his.  Like one instead of two. When you are intertwined face-to-face, he simply says, “Octopus.”  One creature, two hearts, and eight independent limbs. 


His culture and a keen interest in eliminating unwanted hair from his body compel him to strip his body hair using a variety of methods.  He sits with a magnifying mirror and tweezers and plucks the offending interlopers who've escaped the razor, clippers, and dreaded depilatory cream.  Occasionally, you are asked to remove an errant hair that he can feel but cannot see.  He is incredulous when you explain that American men have natural, hairy armpits-- that you like it is mystifying.  Armpit hair for him is impossible, but he caters to your strong preference that he leave the hair on his chest and stomach. When you run out of days on your visitor visa and leave the country, he removes it.  But for you, he tolerates it.     

You are asked to investigate any new bump or pain to determine its origin and what to do about it.  You are a game investigator and solver of bumps. He tends to scratch and pick; you grab his hand and pull it away when you see it. You are a (mostly) former picker.   It takes restraint for him not to scratch and pick at your skin as he runs his hands over your body.  When he lingers over an innocuous mole or skin tag, you make a low noise, like a disapproving hum, and he begrudgingly disengages. 


He has a more hurried style than you do, and you use the phrase “hold on” often. He begins to repeat it. Independent of any need to hold on, he just says it to say it. You are slow dancing to a Yola song with the same title, and you point out the double meaning of holding on to wait and holding on to each other. Yes, he understands. 


He sleeps longer than you, and when he decides he is finished, he jumps out of bed and states that he will prepare breakfast.  Unless he has done it the day prior, in which case you want to take a turn, you delight in his efforts and his familiarity with what you like and don’t and how much is too much for you.  You eat on the terrace in the morning breeze. He watches and expresses his satisfaction when you clean your plate, more so out of an interest in your nutrition, health, and energy than in his breakfast-making acumen. 


He awakens to the day with a soft smile.  You gaze upon him and lean in to kiss the smooth skin of his face with its scruffy whiskers.  On the rare occasion he rises with a headache or a complaint, his usual morning sunshine is turned upside down into a cloudy scowl.  No, you say, don’t do that with your face.  Drink water, eat food, go back to sleep, and take these tablets.  You often wake up cloudy, and his sunny disposition immediately tips you right side up.  So, your counsel is selfish in that you delight in his morning countenance and feel pain when he feels it as you do with those you love. 


In the warmer months, he wears only shorts, sometimes not even those. You are comfortable and unselfconscious in your unclothed state. He rips his clothes off and leaves them hanging over the furniture, his pants already undone just a couple of steps through the door.

A foray into the outside world with too much of your body exposed raises concern for him.  You laugh and tease him that you will go out this way and that way, and he feigns shock at the risqué taunt.  


He dances, sings, jokes, and tickles you, drawing squeals of delight.  Never too hard.  Never too much. Just enough to lift your spirits, make you laugh, and fill you with childlike effusion. 


He is emotional, as are you.

His highs are high, as are yours.

His lows are low, as are yours.

His love is intense, as is yours.

He is moody, as are you.

He is sensitive, as are you. 


His dreams are ever-present, as are yours.  Both are now amorphous and unfocused after lifetimes of work, work, and more work.  The uncertainty of him that unsettles you is the same uncertainty of your own life that leaves you living always in uncertainty.  Unsettled.


His connection to his past, the “good life,” a life much wealthier than this one, sometimes takes him over. You have mostly disconnected from this past.  You bring with you all that you’ve learned and experienced, but there is no reason to long for it.  If you want that life again, you can make it.  But you don’t.  You want a different life.  A version of this life you are living.  But why a version?   


Your conditioned mind tells you there is a missing piece.  There will always be a missing piece; as long as you believe the puzzle is incomplete, you will always tell yourself that if only this last piece were snapped into place, then everything would be great.  Complete.  This is a lie.  The big lie.  The lie that robs the joy.  So, you bring yourself back into the present where there is enough.  You are enough.  He is enough. 


Why is this so difficult? This acknowledgment that the present moment, as it is, is enough.  It cannot be any different than it is.  Wishing it different steals life. 


He speaks of forever.  Of being old together.  Dying together.  Of nothing else mattering other than the togetherness of the two of you.  You used to believe in this, but you no longer do.  You cannot bear to plan forever. To arrange for the future beyond the next few months.  It tethers you.  It creates tension in decisions that don’t align with the made-up plan.  You must do as Joseph Campbell directs and let go of the life you planned so that you can accept the life that is waiting for you.


You used to be fixated on the glorious future where everything would be as you wanted, and then you toiled away in the present, serving the later. Suffer now for the good of the future.   


He senses you cannot commit to this vapor, the future, and begins to pull back.  He states as much.  You are honest.  You tell him you can give him your whole love.  Right now.  That is what you have to offer.  It may not be enough, and you are willing to weather the repercussions of not saying the right thing, the thing he wants you to say.  The words that convey a “no matter what” commitment.  You cannot say them because you won’t.  You won’t because they are not true.  The only “no matter what” you are interested in is unconditional self-acceptance, self-direction, and honesty.   The old no-matter-what commitments kept you in places where you no longer belonged.  And staying where you don’t belong is excruciating.  It causes you to suffer.  To work harder to solve the unsolvable.  To reach for anesthesia.  To deny yourself.  To allow self-hate to murder you with a thousand invisible slices. 


You are open to the wonder available in seemingly small things to which you are present.  You come upon a grotto in the center of your village of Xaghra.  For three euros, you are given a tour by the great-grandson of its excavator.  Looking for water, he discovered the cavern with its stalactites and stalagmites and the well he was looking for, which still flows.  A group of stalactites with water still dripping down has formed over millions of years.  You are awed by it.  You choose to be awed by it by thinking about all the years that have come before and the circumstances that bring you to stand upon this spot, on this day, with these humans, under the ground amongst the mysteries of planet Earth.  

After the quick tour, he compares it to his home country's much larger and more magnificent grottos.  This is an essential difference.  You do not view it as a problem to solve.  You respond that you enjoyed it and that there is no need to chip away at your enjoyment by negating the experience.  He affably states, “Okay,” and moves on.  You are caring for yourself, your experience, joy, awe, and present. 


You do not judge him for his tendencies.  You are familiar with them from a lifetime of comparison.  This is better.  That is worse.  This is good.  That is not as good.  This is valuable.  That is not valuable.  This dangerous evaluation splashes out onto other humans and creates suffering in the splasher and the splashed.  It is possible to get splashed and to avoid the suffering.  Accepting and allowing others to be what they are and holding fast to a core truth that their splish-splashing has nothing to do with you.  You are over here, the water beading up and rolling off you, evaporating into the nothing that it is.


Darkness enveloped this wonderful, unique, and extraordinary human.  You’ve seen its face.  You know what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like.  You know it comes at the behest of impulsive choices, circumstances beyond control, and victimhood.  You see the same forces at play now.  An indecisiveness followed by impulse.  He goes out of the frying pan into the pot of boiling water, into the fire, and then back to the frying pan, where the familiar heat slowly cooks him—the heat of living a rather unforgiving life in a foreign land.  The riches of the old life were lost and squandered.  Shock and awe at the current life and its lack of familiarity with the one before.  Your lived experience is similar, but you view yourself as the conductor vs. an involuntary whomp-whomper of the awkward, heavy tuba encircled in its boa-like constriction.


When you first met, you loved him quickly.  You connected as two people who have known each other before.  You jumped into the forever with both feet.  You still believed. The darkness came.  And it stayed.  It stayed long enough that you could not stay.  You left the apartment, the relationship, the future—you left him. The love stayed.  The like stayed.  The missing him stayed.  The friendship stayed.  The attraction stayed.  The passion stayed.  The longing stayed.  It all sounds very compelling, but it is not enough. 


Your needs must be understood and met more often than they aren’t. Otherwise, what are you doing here? Into what are you pouring your attention, love, time, energy, and life force?


Needs, previously, were either disallowed or hidden by self-hate.  How dare you have needs?  The risk of expressing your needs only to have them hang in the air like an inconvenient fart felt debilitating.  The perfectionist’s desire to need nothing, to be self-contained, an island unto yourself, seemed a fitting antidote—yet it was not.  It was salt in the wound.   It was lonely and exhausting.  Visitors to the island thought it looked great, like a veritable paradise, but after they left, it was just you and some version of Wilson.  Sitting here on the tiny island of Gozo with your needs on full display, you are no longer interested in that lonely old atoll with inanimate or anthropomorphized representations of connection.  Of love.


Unlike your former way of being, you love yourself more than anyone else.  In your former life, self-hate hated you more than anyone else.  It spilled out onto others in the form of judgment and criticism.  It was indirectly conveyed by your impossible standards for yourself. 


You were quietly mystified that others seemed to ignore these crucial thresholds of good enough. You vented in closed company to those with whom self-hate was a familiar fixture.  This tendency to preach to the choir and convert the converted made your murderous tendencies seem pedestrian.  


You were an assassin of character, lifestyle, and appearance.  As if your character, lifestyle, and appearance were all above reproach.  In fact, you attempted to make them bulletproof so that no one would do to you what you were doing to yourself and, by extension, others.  It was self-hate feeding itself and keeping you imprisoned in its dank cell of self-recrimination and fear.  Your life was a chain gang of working harder to serve your image, say the right thing, be the right thing, and look like the right thing. 


Now, you have many tools to keep self-hate out of the car.  To pass it swiftly, thumb out, nefarious agenda stuffed in its backpack.  Sometimes, when you reach for your tools, and they are rusty, and the instruments feel blunt, you simply tell self-hate to fuck off until it finally does.  Fuck off. Fuck you. Go fuck yourself. 


What someone else wants is just that.  It is what they want.  If it is also what you want, you have a BINGO.  If it is not, you must choose yourself.  It is not selfish, or, if it is, it is also survival. It is truth.  The thing is, it is the thing.  It is the only thing.  Asking yourself the right questions and answering them truthfully is the only way to navigate this life and steer clear of the preventable suffering that self-denial causes.  That and bringing yourself into the present.  Always to the present.


You use a technique to detach from the annoying, cloy of a conditioned voice that tells you to worry, be dissatisfied, care what other people say, do, and think to extricate you from this limbo and bring you into the present.  You are poked at by some unhelpful thought about someone else’s behavior, which you have evaluated as yucky.  When this happens, you notice he is complaining out loud about something he is comparing to something else.


You say:


“We are on a tiny rock in the middle of the Mediterranean: a Turk and an American. We are sitting in Victory Square eating grilled calamari alfresco. The sun is out; there is a comfortable breeze. The square is buzzing with people enjoying lunch. There’s more traffic because people are not working and are out and about on Saturday.” 


This is now.  This is all that is now. 


What is forever but a stringing together of the now?


Letting go of the expectation of a forever partner/spouse, a forever career, a forever home, a forever friend, a forever anything...can free you up to experience, enjoy, and be present for the life you are living right now. It can untether you from the pressure to make something work that isn't for you or to stay somewhere that you no longer belong. It can release you to move on when it's time to move on and to relinquish the idea that an ending is a failure. It is the beginning of something new, and you can approach it with awe, wonder, and curiosity. When we let go of forever, we don't start over; we start!

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