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Monday, September 7, 2009

Countdowns and being: the sacrament of the present moment


I am a ‘countdown’ freak. I get a thrill when the ball drops, number by number, on December 31st at 1159. To be honest, the New Year that follows is a bit of a let down—the countdown is much more exciting. Yes, the kitchen timer mesmerizes me when I cook eggs. I can’t pull those eggs off the stove until that 00 flashes and I hear that beep—it’s got to be the countdown thing. I must have always had this fixation, because when I was a kid, I used to con my little sister into doing my chores by promising to ‘time’ her. “Wow!” I would say enthusiastically, “You were WAY faster this time!” And I would watch her scurry around trying her darnedest to beat the clock when I started the final “9, 8, 7, 6, ..."

The countdown neurosis continued when I entered college and nursing school. I remember pulling out the nursing program, all those semesters laid out, course by course … it looked like eternity on a page. But, I would begin the countdown: first course, second course, third course done—one semester down. The check marks beside each core course, every elective, and each semester like a ticking clock counting down the program. When my pencil checked off that last course – what a rush. The 00 of the egg timer, the beeping microwave, the cheers as the ball dropped at midnight, all combined.

Then it was over. I had graduated. But, like the New Year’s countdown, the day after graduation was nearly as flat as the day after New Year’s Eve. My college friends and I had spent hours longing for school to be done. Watching the clock through lectures, wishing we were ‘real’ nurses instead of ‘just’ student nurses. Waiting for the day when we could write ‘RN’ after our name and collect the paycheck to match it. Suddenly, there it all was and I remember thinking, well, this is great—but now what?
Looking back, I realize how amazing it all was: nursing school and college and nursing buddies and those incredible patients that I can’t forget to this day. And I wonder how much I missed—how much we all missed—by fixating on the countdown rather than the incredible experience we were all going through. Jean Pierre De Caussade, a spiritual writer in the 18th century, would have laughed at my countdown fixation. He reflects on what he called the sacrament of the present moment:
Uninterruptedly your life will flow through the unfathomed abyss where you have nothing to do but love and cherish what each moment brings, considering it as the best possible thing for you. When God lives in us we have nothing to help us beyond what he gives us moment by moment. Nothing else is provided and no road is marked out. The present moment holds infinite riches beyond your wildest dreams but you will only enjoy them to the extent of your love and faith.

It is only in the present moment that we truly meet the eternal, for that is where Christ, who is Love and Joy, meets us—not in the past or the future, but now. He is present through one another in our minute-by-minute relationships, as we move and engage with Creation, and in the work he has called us to do as students and as faculty. We are all beginning 15 short weeks together. They will fly by regardless of whether or not we put a check mark beside every task completed or watch the clock through every lecture. We have a choice to meet each moment as a gift from God and a visitation of Christ himself. In return we can receive the riches of deep joy he grows in us.

Blessings on your semester!

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