The Importance of Being Present

Each time I step closer toward a goal I’ve set for myself—each time I let myself believe I’m growing toward something important or becoming the person I want myself to be—I feel terrified.  I have no idea why this happens.  My friends, a brilliant hodgepodge of medical students and engineers, musicians and itinerant travelers, tell me not only that I’ll be fine, but that I already am.  I love them for that.  They remind me that my life is not and will not be conventional, because I’m not conventional.  I’m a weirdo.  An engineer turned poet turned hiker turned tutor.  When I lose myself, when I fall victim to the belief that I’m headed for a life of failure, of emptiness, I read these words:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

—Rainer Maria Rilke

The lesson?  I think each person can and will draw what they please from these words.  The way I see it, though, this is a call to action.  A reminder that it makes no sense to be afraid of what is to come of life.  We’ve only so many moments, and those, whether trivial or stressful, melancholic or madly alive, are everything.  They’re it. 

I think now of my best friends.   

One of them, he’s on his way to becoming a doctor.  A fantastic one.  Right now, though, he’s preparing for the MCAT, a test designed to demoralize and make victims of those who take it.  So, each morning for the past few weeks, we’ve walked to the café down the street from our house, grabbed a coffee, and got to work.  Every so often, he’ll ask me something about the behavior of a point charge in an electric field, or we’ll interrupt one another, provide some welcome, silly distraction. 

Another great friend just completed his degree in Biological Engineering, and is now enrolled and waiting to begin a fully funded master’s program.  He’s going to build sustainable housing and change the world.  I guarantee it.  Every few days, we get together and walk the local bike trail, pointing out ferns along the path and joking about his current love interest.

Yet another dear friend just received confirmation that his second patent—something involving chemical systems and renewable energy that is as incredible as it is complicated—is in the works.  If we’re lucky and have a free moment, we’ll catch a jazz show mid-week at the bar across the street, shoot a game of pool, and clown around like we used to when life was just blooming open.  When we had only the responsibilities of being wide-eyed and kind.

This weekend, a handful of us gathered around my home and had family dinner.  We ate on the deck outside.  A garden salad, corn on the cob, bratwurst, and sun tea.  There was no conversation of the future, of our goals or our fears.  There was only easy laughter and the sky, gorgeous and painted with clouds. 

I bring all of this up to say that when I’m not wasting my time fretting about the days I’ve not yet lived, my life falls gently into its right place.  It’s better than anything I could hope for, perfect in ways that transcend so absolutely my most paradisiacal dreams of the future.  Sure, I still have questions.  I know, though, that I’m not ready to answer them.  Better still, I know that they’ll one day answer themselves.  For now, I practice patience.  I practice living—and loving—it all.