It’s easy to be glib when the more difficult moments are behind you.
There is nothing more maddening to me in the throes of something difficult than the advice to “cherish every moment.” The sentiments usually come from someone farther along the path than me—someone buoyed on waves of forgetting and nostalgia for whom the vagaries and struggles of making a living, raising a family, pursuing a creative life, and a thousand interstitial duties of modern life are less pressing.
And yet, I’m as seduced by the mindfulness movement as anyone. I like that Eckhart Tolle and his sweater-vested testimony that “now is all we have”—I try to stay present and embrace this moment. This one, where the cat has dragged six, wet, slimy chicken breasts out of the bowl across the kitchen floor, leaving a snail trail of muck. And this moment, when a nearly-finished draft of a very important article for a client I highly respect is lost to the bowels of my computer because I forgot to hit ctrl S. And this moment, where, body battle-weary and brain all mush, I drag myself up for the fifth time to attend my son’s request for water or comfort when I am beyond both.
I also have the unfortunate habit, as a collaboratively minded Gen-Xer, of expressing many of my difficulties on social media as though I were speaking to a living room full of buddies, beers clutched in hands. The other night I made a tongue-in-cheek plea on Facebook for a service that would run nighttime interference for exhausted parents. It was met with a bevy of fix-it suggestions about following a proscribed bedtime, hot baths, songs, and other tips from people who don’t know that our evenings veer along just such a predictable course. This, followed by, “Cherish this moment!” and “You’ll miss it later.”
But it’s not just the arena of parenting where I see this misguided cheer for cherishing taking place. Have an aging parent who’s driving you nuts? Cherish every aggravating moment! Undergoing an excruciating first escrow? Cherish that financial gauntlet! You finally got the use of your leg back after surgery? Cherish every limping step!
It’s easy to be glib when the more difficult moments are behind you. I know that people mean well. I know, even, that they are somewhat right—because the sleep-deprived days of my son’s infancy are indeed encapsulated in a silvery bubble of memory with all the pain removed. The endless, nearly-lost, penniless days of buying our first house are almost romantic these many years later. And yet, there is still an echo in the chamber of my remembering that pings me: If you see someone suffering a similar insult, remember what you needed to hear at the time. It’s hard to remember that a person in the throes of any challenge is often looking for a good listener, a nod of encouragement.
We are a self-help culture after all, a country of fixers, with an industry behind every human need designed to help us be bigger, better, smaller, faster, sleeker, sexier, smarter. I would rather cherish the moments that take me by surprise with their fullness. Those moments watering my garden when a swell of strange joy expands in my chest for no other reason than the sun on my face and the soil beneath my feet. And the other moments: when I catch sight of my husband’s long stride in a crowd; when my son sounds out the complex words of a book by himself and thrills with sudden understanding; when I can take a suffering friend’s hand and hold it long enough to let her know she’s not alone.
What if instead of “Cherish every moment,” we had a new cry, one that speaks to the truth of human suffering: “This moment is damn hard; thank goodness there’s another one.”
Jordan Rosenfeld is author of: A Writer’s Guide to Persistence, Make a Scene, Write Free, and the novels Forged in Grace, and Night Oracle. Her essays have appeared or are forthcoming in: Brain, Child, Dame, Modern Loss, The New York Times, Paste, Purple Clover, The Rumpus, Stir Journal, the Washington Post, Role Reboot and more.