Perhaps you noticed. My weekly blog is now once every other week. A student this week provided her class with a wonderful image of what it means to be in the flow of life: Imagine a raft (the simpler the better) on a river. If the raft is imbalanced it will take on water, perhaps even sink. The context of our discussion was “being present” and the weighing down of one side or another of the raft would symbolize an inability to stay in the flow of the present—the weight of preoccupation with the past or the future.
Teaching what it means to be present, to be in the moment is both a challenge and a pleasure. Clever students realize the now is illusive. When? The moment has already passed. So what does it mean to “be here now” (another student passed around his worn out purple covered Be Here Now book by Ram Das this week—I was holding an original copy in my hands and contemplating the paradox of the now).
The latest person to invoke the phrase carpe diem is 52 year-old Patrick Pichette, the CFO of Google who posted his letter of retirement. This is the beauty of the Google age, you can publish your thoughts and anyone in the world can read them—instantaneously. One now seizes the moment by posting, tweeting, instagramming or snap chatting.
Seizing the moment is a phrase worth spending a moment with. To get to its meaning I googled it, which then led me to its origin, a quote from the Greek Ode of Horace:
“Don’t ask (it’s forbidden to know) what end the gods have given me or you. Don’t play with Babylonian numerology either. How much better it is to endure whatever will be! Whether Jupiter has allotted you many more winters or this one, which even now wears out the Tyrrhenian sea on the opposing rocks, is the final one, be wise, be truthful, strain the wine, and scale back your long hopes to a short period. While we speak, envious time will have already fled: seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the next day.”
Mr. Pichette, it could be argued, has been seizing the day of nearly 30 years of non-stop work (the last 7 at Google) “a whirlwind of truly amazing experiences, a frenetic pace, always on, even when I was not supposed to be, and I am guilty as charged—I love my job, still do.” So what does Mr. Pichette want to seize now? More time with family. More time with his wife Tamar. As they stood catching their breath at sunrise on the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tamar asked Patrick this past fall: “When is it going to be my time, when is it going to be our time?” The seed was planted, watered with tears of recognition that the frenetic pace of always being at beck and call was a raft that was weighted down with seizing the moment.
We cannot seize the moment. We can though let the moment seize us. The Pichettes can now travel the world and “scale back their long hopes to a short period” because Patrick fully received his wife’s message about the preciousness of time spent together. Time though is not our own—we are flowing in it and we can no more grasp it (or make up for its “loss’) than remain holding the small hand of our child for they will grow or the blush on the cheek of a young romance for we will age.
It is not the miles we travel or the length of our days or what experiences we have seized. It is that moment on the peak, as we catch our breath and feel the warmth and depth of our connection to each other, the gratitude for this moment and the next and the next, if only we allow it to seize us.