Life as a parent is full of paradoxes. We cherish our children, yet don't always cherish our time with them. The days can feel like they will never end, yet the years can go by before we know it. Moment by moment, we can somehow manage to let a forever slip away.
We don't always appreciate how precious every moment is. This is because in the whirlwind of daily life, we can lose our perspective on the bigger picture. Perhaps the best way to regain the right perspective it is to imagine those precious moments gone.
In Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town, families are shown living their lives—their simple, busy, unremarkable lives. It is not until one of the characters, Emily Webb, meets her death in childbirth that we see how poignant and meaningful each simple, busy, unremarkable moment was. Dead Emily learns she can go back to experience parts of her life again. Against the advice of the other dead people in the cemetery, she decides to do just that for one day. She concedes only to choose a relatively unimportant day, on the grounds that it will still be important enough.
When she arrives back at home on what was her twelfth birthday, she is taken by how young her parents look. She hadn’t remembered them ever being that young. Even on this ordinary day, the preciousness of each interaction is crystal clear to dead Emily. But the living are oblivious, hurriedly going about their ‘have-tos’ and ‘shoulds’ and ‘making sures’, as if in their own bubbles.
Emily wonders, don’t they know they only have fourteen more years with her before she dies? She will move out to get married even before that, and they will become grandparents. Why aren’t they enjoying this fleeting moment with her before it all changes? Why aren’t they noticing her? Exasperated and heartbroken, Emily is unable to continue. She returns to the cemetery before the day even ends. (Watch the scene here.)
Sometimes, we all fall into the trap of going through each little moment with our heads down, as we tick the have tos and shoulds and making sures off our lists. But if we let that become habit, then thousands of moments will pass and in a blink, the time will be up. It can be helpful to ask yourself—if today is the day they come back like Emily Webb, would my littles ones cry out in frustration, “why aren’t they looking at me,” or “don’t they know how important this now is?”
That is the hard part about life—making those crucial interpersonal connections while the opportunity is actually there, amidst all the other demands of life. Our Town presents a great cosmic joke, that the only ones who truly understand life are those who have already died. Of course, the dead have an advantage. They are distanced from it all, unburdened by the pressures and uncertainties of the future. They have the perspective to make sense of life.
Could the living be like that, too, if only sometimes? What would happen if you tried to change your perspective? Can you imagine your children, having come back as adult observers in their afterlife, being there? Can you imagine in the background them watching your interactions with them, intently, mindfully, and joyfully? Can you imagine them reminiscing about the splendor that is life?
Can you imagine when you first see your daughter this morning, that her adult self is somehow looking on? With that perspective, will getting her to finish her breakfast still be your first priority?
Can you imagine that when your son comes home from school, a grown version of himself will also be there, eager to watch how the two of you relate to each other? Will your first words to him still be about homework?
If today is the day they come back, I want my children to like what they see. I will look them in the eye today, to take the time to talk with them to understand their viewpoints, and to show them something new. I will let them know that they matter.
If today is the day they come back, I want them to be able to smile through it for a second time.
How to Cite this Article: Brian Vondruska, “Living Every Moment”, The Kind of Parent You Are, accessed [date], https://www.thekindofparentyouare.com/articles/every-moment