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Monitor Board of Contributors: I will focus on this fleeting moment, before it is gone

I remember summers in Deerfield at my parents’ camp, playing in the brook beneath the pines. Later I returned with my husband to build a home on that land passed down from my mother to me. It gave me a warm feeling seeing my boys playing in that same brook under the pines.

But not the same brook. Spring floods have tumbled the rocks around. The clearing where the camp was is grown over. There are still signs of it; a couple of iron pipes cemented into the rocks where we used build a fire to cook hamburgers and chicken for dinner, toasting marshmallows on a whittled stick for dessert. The picnic table is gone. The property was subdivided and my sister sold off her piece of it. But this stretch of the brook is on a corner that stayed with me. When my boys were little I’d take them to the brook and tell them how I used to catch frogs among the rocks when I was their age.

Time passed and those little boys grew up. The youngest is a teenager now. Sometimes we still walk by the brook, and he stops to wade in. I imagine that if I look just the right way, I might see the ghost of the little boy playing in the brook. Perhaps I’ll see the ghost of the little girl that was me.

But those moments are long gone. It’s the same brook, but not the same brook; the same boy, but not the same boy; the same me, but not the same me.

You meet a friend for lunch that you haven’t seen for years, and you laugh and look at each other and remark on how you both have changed. Over tea or perhaps a brew, you conjure up memories you haven’t thought about in ages. When you excuse yourself to go to the rest room, you stand there staring at yourself in the mirror, asking yourself, When did I get so old? How did it happen?

Moment by moment, time flying by, elusive and slippery. The day passes quickly; we talk and react and make decisions, and when we have a moment to think, we are looking ahead to the next meeting, the next deadline, stopping at the store after work, planning dinner. We ricochet back and forth between the past and the future: The thing we wish we hadn’t said, the opportunity we missed; what we are going to do to make amends. Never did finish yesterday’s list; got to make a list of what needs to be done tomorrow.

And while we reflect on the past and plan for the future, moments tick by in steady succession. The world around us morphs gradually into something different, and suddenly we look up and notice how it has changed.

It’s a remarkable thing, this business of time. The present is impossible to take hold of. It slides through our fingers as soon as we try to grasp it and is replaced by something else. I am here, standing next to this brook, watching the water. In this moment a bird is singing. Swish! That moment is gone. In this moment no bird is singing. Now is replaced by a new now, subtly different. Never resting. Always busy.

The past is static; snapshots in an album, frozen and done with, stone beads hanging on a string. The future doesn’t exist, waiting like a statue inside a block of marble. Everything happens right now, galloping through, while we make our plans for tomorrow and kick ourselves for what we did or didn’t do yesterday. And if we don’t pay attention, before we know it, a day, a month, 20 years have gone by.

So I’ve decided that I will try to find some time every day to stop and notice these fleeting, ticking moments. To pay attention to where they go, how they work, what they’re made of. I’ll pause and notice the profusion of violets in the dooryard, the spider web quivering in the sunshine, my sons laughing with their friends in the kitchen. There was a time when I didn’t exist, and there will come a time when I don’t anymore. But right now, I am alive and I can see violets and spider webs, hear laughter, feel the sun on my face and breathe in the smells of spring blooming moist and green.

I am here, the me that I am in this moment, not quite like any other that came before, unlike any that will come after. And there is something quite wonderful in that.

(Justine “Mel” Graykin lives and writes in Deerfield and practices freelance philosophy on her website at justinegraykin.com.)

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