How To Find Contentment in the (Painful, Crazy, Joyous) Present Moment

Have you ever looked at a photograph and thought, What a window into another world ?

That’s how I feel when I see this picture of my friends Gene and Allison, snapped at a L’Arche dance in July 2007. At the time, I’d been at L’Arche just over a month, and so, though we liked each other immediately, we were all relative strangers then.

When I look at this picture now, I take in the bright colors, the glad energy, the happy smiles. I take it all in, thinking, “God, we had no idea what was coming.”

We didn’t know how hard and how beautiful our life at L’Arche would be. We didn’t know that our hearts would be broken, over and over again. We didn’t know that, four years later, we’d have to say goodbye to Gene. We didn’t know that Allison would have to face cancer.

Yet, by the same token, we also didn’t know that Allison and I would become such close friends. We didn’t know that we’d be able to feel the end of Gene’s life, that we’d be so connected to him as to know, even from afar, when his earthly life was at an end. We didn’t know all that we would go through, but we also didn’t know all that would sustain us.

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I’ve been babysitting for Allison’s young son this week as she goes to doctor’s appointments. And even though I’m clearly caring for him, there’s a way in which he’s also caring for me. His innate optimism is helping me (and Allison and her husband, Mike) to stay sane amidst an insane situation. And nowhere was that clearer to me than when I walked him to the park on a bitter-cold day to play on the swings. Allison had told me how much he loved the swings, but still, I wasn’t prepared for his reaction.

When I gathered him up and pushed him on the toddler swing, I saw such joyful innocence in every line of his face. He was lit up with laughter, cooing and babbling as he swung back and forth. It brought tears to my eyes, this little boy whose mom didn’t know if she’d live to see him grow up, beaming at me.

As I pushed, I felt a lump in my throat, but I sang to him with the same freedom I’d felt as I sang to Gene the last time I saw him. But instead of a song of farewell, I sang a chorus of contentment from Dido’s song, “Us 2 Little gods”.

Just this day, I need no other. Just this life, I need no more.

Just this moment, let it all stop here. Let it all stop here, I’ve had my fill.

And I could see that this little boy’s happiness — like Allison and Gene’s in the photo — was based upon the sufficiency of the present moment. He imagined no future sorrow, anticipated no future joy. He was simply present, glad to be alive and swinging. You can consider this naive and thoughtless, if you like. For my part, I consider it a kind of wisdom that, as we grow, we all-too-easily forget.

Perhaps this is what it means to become like little children … to let the present illumine us.

To let our cup run over even in a world of loss and pain.

To offer one another gifts in greeting and gifts in goodbye.

To realize that, as Thomas Carlyle wrote, “The tragedy of life is not so much what we suffer, but rather what we miss.” 

And that was the gift a little child gave me: a return to the present, where, despite a world of suffering without and within, I wasn’t missing anything at all.

Eventually, I had to lift the little boy out of the swing. (He cried, hating that we had to go.) We walked home through the cold, and my hands were numb, my face frozen. But my heart?

My heart beat stronger than before.

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What helps you to stay present? Tell me in the comments! I love hearing your sharings and insights.

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25 thoughts on “How To Find Contentment in the (Painful, Crazy, Joyous) Present Moment

  1. Caroline, what a beautiful post! You’ve inspired me today, and I am honored by your reference to one of my favorite quotes. I am sending good wishes & healing thoughts to you & Allison & your families. And I am glad we’re becoming blogging friends 🙂

  2. Caroline,
    This was beautiful! I can so relate to the feeling you described. We all have these moments in our lives. Why don’t we stop to treasure them more? Why don’t we all the joy that is flowing through and to us to completely bathe every cell in our body? I believe you are right. If we did stop to “enjoy” that moment and to participate fully in the present our lives would be profoundly changed.
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  3. Donna says:

    What a reminder of staying in the present, and especially appreciating those moments that fill us to the brim!
    A loooong time ago, while in the midst of experiencing such a moment, I wrote,”If I could live every moment as if it were the last, I would be endlessly filled.” Just this day, I need no other.

  4. Phylliss says:

    Caroline,

    I can, with great honesty and gratitude, say that your writing is “one of the things that sustains me”. I often scroll through muliple subject lines and ‘froms’ to pause gratefully and with much anticipation, when I see your name and “A Wish Come Clear”. I have not been disappointed.

    May you be blessed,

  5. Hi Caroline,

    That’s all we have – this present moment. I don’t mean that in a fatalistic “we could all be gone tomorrow” way; I mean it literally. This is it – the past is gone and the future will just be more…present moments. Sending an angel to your friend and my hope that she will be just fine and spend many years with her little guy. In fact, I’m going to go read mine an extra bedtime story just because you reminded me of how important it is.
    Julie | A Clear Sign recently posted..Don’t Let Ascension Fool You Into Changing All Your Relationships

  6. Metod says:

    Wonderful post Caroline. Indeed, my youngest son is my best teacher
    reminding me about the gift of living the moment. Isn’t it sad how quick, as adults, we forget? Well, I try not to…and that’s why my wife still calls me a big kid 🙂
    I love photography, and honestly, I can get lost in it for hours. Those are my happiest moments…there is no time, no yesterday and no tomorrow.
    I believe that no matter what we’re doing, noticing something beautiful around is very valuable. Being thankful for the little things.

    I wish your friend Allison a lot of strength through these days…

    Blessings.

  7. How lucky you and this little boy were to have each other on a cold day in the park. Your time together — and Allison and Gene’s stories as well — are truly inspiration to slow down and stay in the moment. Blessings to Allison — I’ll be thinking of her and sending good thoughts for her journey. Blessings to you, too, for a wonderful post.
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  8. Once again, a gorgeous piece. You elevate the mundane with what I consider to be your very spiritual prose.
    Staying in the present is certainly ideal. But when we’re dealing with sorrow and pain, it’s oftentimes very hard since we as adults know about worry and concerns.
    Being with children is the most wonderfully grounded and present gift we can give ourselves, for they know and experience nothing but the present joy (and sometimes pain) of the moment.
    I’m personally experiencing this now with my 9 month old delicious granddaughter. I can just sit and watch her for hours and be in the moment. Nothing else matters or enters into my mind; I am completely enveloped by her.
    Thanks for a beautiful post. I wish the best for your friend.
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    • Thank you so much, Harriet! I can just imagine you and your granddaughter spending time together; what a beautiful thing.
      And yes, I love to ‘elevate the mundane’ through story. Your comment reminded me of what a friend once said, in an astonished tone: “Cari, when I clean my closet, it’s just cleaning my closet. But for you, it somehow becomes this deeply meaningful experience of life!” As it was in the beginning, is now, and likely ever more shall be 😉
      Thank you again for your affirmation; I love hearing your insights each week.

  9. Thank you so much for showing the world that disability support work is not depressing and disheartening. You help put the heart back into service, and that’s never a bad thing. Thanks for shining light into the cobwebs of a bad day and finding joy in small things.
    Lana Phillips recently posted..Serving With a Superhero Spirit

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