“Each today, well lived, makes yesterday a dream of happiness and each tomorrow a vision of hope. Look, therefore, to this one day, for it and it alone is life”.
Just before making a left turn into the local grocery store parking lot, I noticed her standing in darkness. Her location was purposely chosen so vehicle headlights would cast a view upon a handmade sign requesting food assistance. A light rain didn’t seem to deter the elderly woman, although she clearly was quivering in the cold. It was a Sunday evening when I pulled into that parking spot, facing a stone’s throw from her. For nearly ten minutes I watched a steady stream of vehicles pass by. Everyone saw her plight. Drivers parked, walked into the store, and went about their business, without a sideways glance.
I approached the lady prepared with compassion, but also curiosity. She was old enough to be someone’s grandmother. What happened in life to bring her to this crevice? After a few minutes her story resonated with the global food shortage. According to the United Nations’ World Food Program, 1 in 9 people go to bed hungry each night. That's 795 million people on the planet who suffer from chronic hunger. It’s forecasted that an additional 2 billion people will be lacking food by 2050. For this humble lady, my cash gift supplements to her Social Security check. It felt good to be present with her.
We’ve all witnessed the signs of needy people by the roadside and a plethora of non-profit organizations seeking donations to serve food, water and health care throughout the world. Do we always respond when called upon? The other day I was returning from the Oregon coast and stopped for gas. Adjacent to the service station, but a few hundred feet away, I noticed a young woman in a wheelchair positioned next to her car. Her scribbled cardboard sign proclaimed, “HELP please, need GAS!!!” While the attendant was filling my tank I debated about helping her. In the meantime, I watched as motorists, with their tanks full, pulled out of the station, passing her by. I did the same. Not long after entering Interstate 5-South, I regretted my decision. With conscious reflection I realized that I had judged her rather than simply responding to her need for help. Never again.
In future situations, I will respond with a kinder, non-judgmental heart. It’s not the amount of money to give, but the willingness to care and connect in that moment of opportunity. And, a thought came to mind. Imagine the ripple effect of people replicating kindness from observing one act of charity. Consciously feeding the universe with generous intention has a mystical way of coming back around. Boomerangs!
When the past and future steal the mind temporarily, the present is orphaned. Why does the mind drift to abandon life’s gift of the “here and now”?
As an illustrative fable, a man became lost hiking among the giant sequoia groves of Sierra Nevada. He prayed for a sign of help. Shortly after continuing his trek, he came upon a telephone mounted on a redwood’s trunk. There was a posted sign, “use for direct line to God”. He was elated by the prospect of having a conversation with God. He’d been lost on hikes before, and needed to ease the pain of those past experiences and the anxiety about his future. When God came on the line with a comforting “Hello”, the man said, "how can I relish the moment with your beautiful creation, but dismiss the constant churning of negative doubts in my mind, and trust you for a path to safety”? "Breathe", replied a soothing voice. Hearing no immediate response from the man, God amplified his simple advice, "Whenever you feel anxious about your future or your past, just breathe. Try it with me a few times right now”. The man hung up the phone, and walked away spurting some nonsensical words under his breath. God recalled a similar moment with Peter, one of Jesus’ twelve apostles. "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:31).
Even dogs grasp that looking to the past or future is for naught, as joyful living is always captured in the present. This is not to say that life is devoid of past memory or hope for the future - just not a preoccupation, creating that emotional “stuck in the mud” feeling on an isolated country road at midnight. Fond memories of my only son are like a sugar high, momentarily boosting the psyche. He was thirteen at the time and we’d decided to camp at Diamond Lake, in eastern Oregon. After a sun-drenched afternoon of biking around the lake, we partnered to pitch the tent and chow-down a meal around a crackling campfire. With our rigorous physical activities came expected father-son conversations, unabashed laughter, and family stories made easier with nature and a black night sky, peppered with twinkling stars. Crawling into our separate sleeping bags, yet adjacent to each other, we both were exhausted and ready for deep slumber. In that surrendering moment when my mind was fading and eyes closed, I felt my son’s arm come around my neck and shoulder, accompanied by a mellow whisper, “I love you dad”.
I still remember the feelings I had in that moment, like it was yesterday. A few years later, we had another memorable three day outing at Mount Hood’s Timberline Lodge, in northern Oregon. He was an accomplished snow boarder and I skied downhill. While the interaction was more intuitive, someday we’ll recapture the pleasures of carving through the white-power at that historic mountaintop resort.
Time is a human construct. To avoid becoming a victim in the culture’s construct to purchase your time, recognize it really doesn’t exist. To not engage in the present state is to be torn between two false worlds of the mind, past and future. To constantly reside in the tug-a-war of those constructs is to miss the miracles of life directly in front and around us. Allowing our minds to be a victim of the past and a slave to future creates an unease, leading to stress and agitation. There’s no redemption in time. Confront, surrender, and be set free. Whatever unfolds, commit to being there, completely. Life will take care of the rest.
The past is rarely an easy trot. It can rob the present in a flash. I’ll be the first to volunteer that this shift in thinking is cathartic. Life’s a roller coaster of highs and lows, suffering and celebration. Between birth and death everybody punches a ticket with destinations that will be both prized and despised. The journey of these collective experiences is like the bread crumbs of our life’s trail. Framed as a metaphor, maybe God’s crawly creatures munch heartily on the crumbs that don’t nourish our “here and now”. It’s taken far longer than I care to admit, but the anguish of a tortured, toxic relationship took a sorrowful drain on my life’s energy. As a good and faithful Heavenly Father, God doesn’t waste anything though. Even in those darkest hours my pain was lessened with lessons learned. The bread crumbs tracing that gloom have been re-purposed to an ant colony somewhere in the cosmos. Healing humor has its rightful place, too.
Home is the presence of Heaven’s glory touching Earth to awaken harmony, joy, and abundance. Where’s that rainbow touchstone? Jesus spoke clearly, “to seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). To seek first infers an active presence. A conviction sought in the moment, not some distant goal. Jesus extorts throughout his teachings that the time is now. While biblically the past is remembered and the future is hoped for, it’s the present that has urgency. During the 33 years that Jesus walked this planet, the last three years revealed the miracles of his presence. As recounted in the gospel of Mark, chapter 5, verses 25-34, Jesus was recognized as a divine presence, and people longed to be near him.
And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (Wikipedia)
To get unstuck from thinking in the past or future, get busy using time, talents, and resources to serve, fill a need, and express authentic love generously.
Carry presence with you. It’s the prize of the day. Miracles arrive in the present, not some distant past or vague future. Live wholeheartedly, Here and Now.