The average human lifespan is 650,000 hours. We are awake for about 450,000 of them.
You know how the rest of this goes.
After stripping away the hours you spend peeling a pomegranate, checking yourself out on anything remotely reflective, deciding which TV show is really worth watching for the third time to reigning over the banana republic that’s your family to working away at the slow erosion of your life that provides for everything but its regrets — you are left your with barely anything. That’s when the most boring goofs you know show up and sarcastically hint at the fact you don’t spare any time for them. Life is short.
In the third decade of my life, I have had a singular constant feeling at the end of almost every day:
Because the last thing I remember was waking up in the morning. And the last thing I remember before that was my first day at college.
Time hits you hard when the kids you once held in your arms have grown up to look all giant and ugly. When people make the vapid statement, “you’ve grown so much,” what’s behind those words is an awareness of their own mortality. Because it was just yesterday that everyone was saying those words to them.
The problem with the morbid quickness of time is largely because of the way we measure it. As time passes, it gets chunked into units. Hours become days which become weeks which become months which become years which become decades which become centuries which become who-gives-a-shit-anymore. If you are lucky, it’s a matter of decades before you become John or Jane Doe. And who’s that? No one in particular and that’s the point.
In the run up to oblivion, you need to do justice to the trillion atoms that miraculously came together for a once in a lifetime opportunity called: you. Happy birthday, sucker.
Units of time are assigned to you from the day you are born. There’s no escaping them. People start asking you how old you are every year and you really couldn’t give less of a damn because “can’t a kid get his/her gift without having to make useless small talk?”
As you grow older and look back at the most unproductive time of life that was your first ten years, you remember so little. If you are lucky, you’ll remember the one time you peed your shorts in school and your brother bringing all his friends to watch the bare-assed spectacle that was you.
A decade of great purposelessness has gone by.
The second decade is going to be a little better. You will remember more things. You will discover this thing called girl/boy and how she/he has the power to dismantle your life in stunningly unforeseeable ways. You will make new friends, go different places, and your parents will age almost 3000 years when you are in this decade.
This may be the most memorable decade of your life even as so much of your life is still ahead of you. Looking back to here, you won’t measure the two decades gone by in the standard units of time.
You will measure them in tiny, mysterious — unique only to human — units known as, moments.
Moments are manifestations of time that encapsulate seemingly random memories of our lives. It’s hard to acknowledge memory as being random because we tend to ascribe so much meaning to it and that gives us an illusion of having control over our memories.
For every special memory involving celebration, significance or people, we have ten inexplicably mundane moments within them and often remember the most random-ass people within it. I am not going to dissect the entire limbic system here, but let’s just say you have a whole spectrum of memories over which you can exercise little or no direct control. While memories inherently signify the past, we make moments in the present.
So how about we change the unit of measure a little while. How about we live some of our days not for hours, but for moments. You reach the end of tomorrow and instead of asking yourself what you accomplished, ask yourself what moments you paid attention to.
Becoming a part of even a single moment in a day is hard. For one, there’s the illusion of control. You believe you have control over creating the moment. That only throws you off into wild embarrassments and the only thing you pay attention to is yourself. Worse, creating moments may become another exercise in productivity. This is the attention-seeking method of creating moments.
What we need is the attention-giving part of creating moments. And it’s hard.
Because you are redundant to the moment’s passing. In fact, the less the role you have to play in it, the better the moment. By merely watching it, you became a part of it and it, a part of you. These aren’t stories you can tell people later on because you can’t recreate the moment. At the end of the day, it’s an atom of your memory — one of the trillion.
Now, as hard as these moments seem, they are in abundance. It’s pretty much what nature so effortlessly does. But I can’t take you on a guided tour of a forest now.
One of the most vivid moments I remember from my time backpacking was doing the dishes in the hostel in Barcelona (well, sorry about having to go all international for an example). The ordinariness of that moment was so over-powering, I couldn’t help but be seized by it.
Maybe there was a blonde force named Melanie behind the dish-washing atomic assemblage in my head, but beaches, Basílica de la Sagrada Família, and Barcelona FC — I regretfully inform you I remember doing the dishes far more clearly than you all. How many such moments had I let go in order to fill the backpack of my heart with only the most exotic experiences?
There’s this crumbified platitude that money can’t buy experiences. But what no one tells you is that experiences mean little without moments and in the larger scheme of things, memories. Pulling out the phone, you may capture the experience, but you will miss the moment. In talking about your experiences after — you may enthrall everyone, but never feel anything yourself. See coma.
Moments cannot be spoken, written, or recreated. Moments are raptures of immense beauty, attention, and aloneness — private ships that dock at the shore of your soul, leaving behind a susurration of sacredness carried from the vast expanse of your life.
As you grow older, moments will drastically reduce even as every year increases in significance. Meanwhile, the brain is losing its ability to remember things. After a few decades, you realize you are still caught up in the second decade.
Everything after that congeals into this ephemeral blur that begs the same question,
Here’s the answer: You chose shitty moments to pay attention to.
You bought expensive experiences with a debt of moments.
You spent so much time in the future that you aren’t able to come to terms with the past.
What you don’t see is that the past and the future are the same units of time. While the future looks like a straight line, the past reveals a smattering of dots. You are so busy trying to connect them, you forget what’s happening in front of you: you collect no dots of your own.
There are some incredible things happening around you. You chase them only to get lost in the chaos of the future you are trying to engineer. Don’t let your life be defined by mere units of time. The units that define your life, in the end, are units of memories we have all along called moments. It won’t matter how long you lived, but how much attention you paid to those moments.
The future of the future is the past.
This moment is breathing.
Are you being taken in, or let out?