The Unexpected Cost of Always Trying to Live in the Moment

Every summer when growing up, my family would take trips to Cape Cod. My brother and I would spend the days leading up to our trip rifling through our CD collections, deciding which albums to bring with us for the six-hour drive (Blink-182, SR-71, and, later, Motion City Soundtrack were always among the top of the list). We’d print out a list of every state in the country, awarding various values to each, ready to play the License Plate Game in the car (Alaska and Hawaii always had the highest amount of points). We’d joke that every year, our parents would get into their “annual fight” before we left, delaying our departure by at least 45 minutes, but then eventually we’d be on our way. We’d stop around lunchtime — in Mystic, Connecticut, at a Friendly’s restaurant just off of the highway. Then, several hours later, we’d cross the Sagamore Bridge onto the Cape, and every year, at this very moment, my mom would turn around, look at us, and say: “Savor the moment.”

It became somewhat of a catchphrase for our trips to the Cape and as a kid, I didn’t give it much thought. But as I got older, I understood why she said it: it was the beginning of everything, the start of our family vacation, but also the start of a memory. And, naturally, because it was fun, it would be over in the blink of an eye. A week somehow felt like a day, and despite the fact that we would spend several nights in our rented condo near the beach, when it was time to leave, it would inevitably feel like we’d just arrived. My brother and I would pile back into the car, a little more sunburned than we were a few days prior, and we’d gaze out the window sadly as the beach faded into the distance. The drive back over the bridge was never as exciting as it was at the start of the trip, and we’d both agree: We wish we could go back and do it again.

There have been so many other times where I’ve thought about this mantra, where I’ve tried to freeze-frame an experience as it was happening. As a senior in high school, my best friend and I were completely obsessed with an acting class we were taking at a local conservatory, and we’d count down every day until Wednesday. At the start of each rehearsal, we would remind ourselves: We’re here! This is it! We’d talk about wanting to hit the pause button and just exist in that moment of walking through the corridor, unknowing of what inside jokes might develop as the evening unfolded. In college, my friends and I would agree that the beginning of the weekend was simply the best, as it held the weight of possibility. As graduation approached, I remember walking across campus, silently assigning a memory to every location, mapping the entire school with things that had happened, at one point in time. During our final Spring Fling, my friends and I visited the waterfall that was on campus and wondered why we’d never done it before. I remember thinking: Look around, remember this, it’ll be over soon.

But despite my best efforts to “savor the moment,” I don’t think I’ve ever gotten it right, because no matter what, the shifting of chapters has always made me strangely sad. No matter how much I appreciated something while it was mine, it’s never felt like an accomplishment, and it never made up for the overwhelming nostalgia that I currently carry for every piece of my life that’s come and gone.

Nevertheless, I found myself thinking about those Cape Cod trips recently. The other day, I was playing on the floor with Izzy, listening to a Spotify playlist filled with pop music for kids. She’s usually all over the place these days, crawling everywhere, trying to get into everything, but for some reason, she was strangely quiet and snuggly, curling up next to me, reaching for my hair, and giggling. In the background, a song was playing with the words “It’s a wonderful life with you by my side,” and the sun was streaming through the window, and I distinctly thought to myself: Savor the moment. This is a moment to savor.

Last night, as I was putting Izzy to bed, she fell asleep in my arms and I tried to imprint the experience into my brain, memorize the way she felt heavy in my arms, with her cheek against my shoulder. But despite being so filled with love for her, I also felt sad, knowing that one day I won’t hold her like this anymore, one day this will be in the past, just like the waterfall on campus, just like those Wednesday evening rehearsals, just like the drive over the Sagamore bridge, playing the License Plate Game with my brother. One day, this will be over too, and I know, no matter how much I “savor,” I will desperately want to go back, just to live it again one more time.

But then, later one, after Izzy had gone to bed, I thought some more, and I realized — While trying to savor it, I inadvertently made it a memory when it was happening to me. I mentally put myself years down the line, when I’m actually in it, living it, right now. I mentally put myself at the end of something when it’s really the beginning.

Maybe trying to savor the moment is a fool’s errand, a wild goose chase that will always leave you feeling somewhat lost. Maybe we’ll always want to go back, no matter how much we’re appreciating what we have now. Maybe that’s the price of having good memories, of living a life filled with a sibling you love, with friends you love, with a baby you love that will grow into a little girl you love. Maybe that’s the bargain we make when we choose to be happy, when we choose to let other people in: We agree that it won’t always be the way it is today. We agree that one day, we’ll miss all of this. We agree that one day, we’ll be sad, drowning in memories and in nostalgia, looking backwards because that’s all there is left. But right now, there’s a backwards, a forwards, and a today. Right now, these are experiences, not memories. Right now is where we are.

Featured image by Henri Pham on Unsplash



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