Platitudes about remembering to “live in the moment” are popular these days, but I think we repeat them so much that they lose their meaning.
Tonight, as my oldest daughter graduates from high school, I realize my most significant period of influence in her life is over. The thought strikes me with force. If I failed to live in the moment in all the years prior, now I must live in the past.
The first of our three children to complete high school, she heads off to college in the fall. This past week has been packed with graduation ceremony practices, preparations for prom night and goodbye-parties with friends. In the busyness, it is necessary to put aside any lament about the passage of time.
I glance at my middle daughter and my young son, who are sitting beside me. One just entering high school, one entering grade four. They are absorbing the evening’s energy and reflecting it back.
I know they will remember tonight, as I remember my older brother’s graduation. I also was in grade four. I remember how tall he seemed. I remember his late-seventies baby-blue suit underneath his green gown and his long side-burns. I remember how I looked up to him, how I thought he could do anything if he really wanted to.
I remember my own graduation in detail, too—27 years ago. Twenty-seven! It was raining when my graduating class proceeded from our high school to the local hockey arena for the ceremony. The hair I spent hours curling around my green cap fell flat against my face in the pouring rain, and I spent the rest of the evening brushing it out of my eyes. I was overcome with emotion walking up the aisle. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t hold back the tears.
I wonder if my daughter will cry, too, or if she’ll take it all in stride?
My gaze sweeps across the groups of parents, grandparents and siblings filling the seats in the packed auditorium, all waiting to see their loved ones walk across the stage. There’s a crackle in the air.
When the bagpipers lead the students in, I pinpoint my daughter in the processional. She giggles with her seat-mates in the shoulder-shaking way she has done since she was little.
I never wanted to be the kind of mother who lives only for motherhood, the kind that finds her identity in her kids. I wanted to maintain some sense of self so that as freedom returned to me, little by little, I could reclaim my own purpose.
So this time, I am not weepy. Rather, I am happy for my daughter and I am proud of her accomplishments.
But this thrill of pleasure is tempered with a stream of tough questions. I keep pushing them away but they persist all through the ceremony.
Did I do my job properly, I wonder?
Was I firm enough?
Was I relaxed enough?
Did I teach by example? Well, of course I did, but was it the right example, at least most of the time?
What is the common phrase these days? Oh, yes: “I want a do-over.”
Yes, as I watch the proceedings, I have the incredible urge to jump up and yell, “STOP! WAIT! I think I got a few things wrong—I need to do it all again.”
Unfortunately, like every other experience in life, parenthood is linear. A one-way road.
So, no do-overs, then. Which brings me back to living in the moment. I assume that if I live in the moment I’ll make fewer mistakes, because I’m not mindlessly reacting to circumstances. I’m present. Dwelling in the now.
I dunno about you, but I spend lots and lots of time mindlessly reacting to circumstances. Is this even possible, anyway? It sounds god-like.
Perhaps most truths are better understood and appreciated in hindsight (hindsight means, “the day we really screwed up”). How can we truly appreciate a concept before we’ve seen it in action? If we’re observant, we can find ways to apply what we’ve learned to future situations, but we learned this by not reacting properly the first time round.
I believe that’s why the son who listens to his father’s instructions in Proverbs 13:1 is called wise. His wisdom springs from acting on what his father knows, not what he yet knows himself. Once he acts on that faith, then he owns the experience.
After the names were called and the diplomas were handed out, we search for our girl among the throngs of people in the reception atrium. She’s probably posing for pictures with classmates and hugging friends, saying her goodbyes.
It is hard to find her and we wait for quite a while. She’s off, reveling in her environment. The shape of things to come?
As the crowds thin out we finally catch up with her. People are snapping pictures and she’s chatting a mile-a-minute with a few pals. Some pounce on her from behind and they explode in laughter. Her long blond hair, carefully flat-ironed by her cousin this afternoon, bounces below her cap, with the tassle hanging now on the right side.
I wonder if she’s going to be okay. Did we shelter her too much? She thinks she knows who she is and where she’s going—but on this one-way road, we all know the beginning is just a place to start.
She didn’t cry. She took it all in stride.