Archives for posts with tag: Being present

What are days for?

Days are where we live.

They come, they wake us

Time and time over.

They are to be happy in:

Where can we live but days?

from Days, Philip Larkin

As we proceed with the easing of lockdown here in the UK, I am thinking a lot about time: how I have spent it over the past months, and how, as I emerge from my cocoon, I might henceforth conduct my “one wild and precious life” (Mary Oliver, The Summer Day).

During this year so far, my perception of time seems to have fluctuated between a sense of days racing by, and weeks where time slowed, almost paused, suspending itself, and my life.

It’s a strange paradox, this sense of time creeping by, especially in the dark days and nights of January and February, alternating with a pressing sense of “running out of time”. The “time of our lives” is what we are all here for and busy devoting ourselves to. And yet, how much energy do we devote to time past and time not yet arrived rather than the now of our lives?

The novel A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki opens with:

“My name is Nao, and I am a time being.”

“A time being is someone who lives in time.”

We are all “time beings” but perhaps not always consciously so. To some extent, lockdown has encouraged a focus on the present, the future having broken free from any control we might hitherto have thought we had over it. The consequent sameness of the lockdown days as one rolled into the next also created a sense of time blindness or disorientation. Some mornings when I wake up, my first thought is, “What day is today?”

I asked my 22 year old daughter if there was anything positive she could say about her experience of lockdown. “Time,” she responded, “a sense of having more of it.”

Of course we don’t. Time is in itself—on an individual level at least—ultimately finite. The only handle we might have on it rests on subjective (and often delusional) perception. But my daughter’s sentiment does nonetheless resonate. In my pre-COVID life, schedules were busier, often overwhelming, and time seemed elusive. I have to some extent enjoyed the sense of less-filled time over these past months. I seem to have no problem devoting any empty (ie non working) minutes with pleasurable and rewarding activities. I am also aware, and this does at times bother me, that there is little focus or direction to this delightful idling, apart from a seeking of pleasure and a feeding of curiosity. And so time has passed, pleasantly for the most part. Is that ok, or “good enough”?

Perhaps not. From A Tale for the Time Being:

“If you don’t have clear goals, you might run out of time.”

And Jenny Erpenbeck’s Go, Gone, Went (a time-considered title, surely):

“Time is meant to pass, but not just that.”

And also Annie Dillard: “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

I return to my opening question: how might my experience of time spent over the past months inform how I might henceforth live my life?

I have no answers. Like Richard Hawley in the lyrics from his song Time Is, I currently reside at a place of questioning, hovering as I do in that liminal (and idling) space between my now and my future:

“What is it that you are wanting
And what are you hiding?
Do you know where it is you’re going to
And hoping to find there?”

Perhaps too much questioning only serves to distract from the challenge of bearing witness to our “time being” lives through a conscious awareness of the now…

Some final (and perhaps enigmatic) words from one of my favorite poets, Czeslaw Milosz:

“It is true. We have a beautiful time

As long as time is time at all.”

from A Mistake, Czeslaw Milosz


Today, I got up late. It’s Saturday, and there was no urgency. I can take a later yoga class instead of my usual early morning one. I could have stayed in bed all day in fact, and probably no one would have known.

There is a great freedom in that. To cliché it, “my life is my own.” Pretty much.

It also means, however, that no one really witnesses my life. Especially this chapter in it, this new adventure in a different place and country.

Our lives are the sum of so many moments, the trivial and the not so. All the small things – which matter to me hugely – that constitute my every day aren’t really worth relaying to someone else, later. And so, these days, for the most part I am the only person who “sees” the micro and the macro that threads together my personal narrative.

Mostly, I am pretty content just witnessing myself witnessing me.

But there are times, too, that it feels as if I am looking for proof that I actually exist, that I am here / have been here / did that… Which is probably why I am drawn to writing, a potential affirmation of my existence. A record, of sorts.

Maybe that’s what diaries are all about. A witnessing, a proof to ourselves that yes, we do actually exist.

A few years ago, I saw (twice) the film Dreams of a Life. It tells the true story of a young woman who is found dead in her London apartment two years after a last sighting. She was found accidentally. No one had reported her missing. She literally disappeared, and no one noticed.

I am good at being alone. I like it. But I also thrive on being in the company of others. And I am happy to report that I am gathering “others” in my new land.

In Buddhist teaching (which I am currently studying and getting much from), the notion of the “no self” is a dominant one that challenges the delusion of cherishing the small, individual self. Our perception of our “selves” and others is merely a thought. Perhaps we fight that notion of “ourselves” being no more than a succession of thoughts by doing things, by chronicling them, by having others witness them, so that we can be truly reassured that we do indeed exist.

Of course, the presence of others need not necessarily equate with a witnessing. We all encounter many people every day, but how often are they truly present to us, and we to them?

As always, I look to poetry for further considerations.

First, Norman McCaig, from his poem Summer Farm:

“Self under self, a pile of selves I stand

Threaded on time, and with metaphysic hand

Lift the farm like a lid and see

Farm within farm, and in the centre, me”


And second, Morning, by Yannis Ritsos (translated from the Greek by Nikos Stangos):

“She opened the shutters. She hung the sheets over the sill.

She saw the day.

A bird looked at her straight in the eyes. ‘I am alone,’ she whispered.

‘I am alive.’ She entered the room. The mirror too is a window.

If I jump from I will fall into my arms.”





This piece, from Tim Lott’s regular Guardian weekend column, is profoundly moving and sad, but also uplifting (

Lott tells of time spent (‘sad, but also tender and positive and beautiful’) with his imminently dying 87-year-old father.

Lott’s father was intermittently aware that his family was present, as they shared the experience amongst themselves, ‘laughter, reminiscence, and unexpected joy’, alongside their sadness.

Lott’s take on sadness and loss and mourning following death leaves much to reflect on, in terms of what we mourn…

‘I wept, but not for his death. He was fulfilled.’

‘I will miss him, but I will never mourn him. His death was, like the man himself, profoundly average yet utterly exceptional.’

Lott mentions something, which I have often personally considered:

‘Death is so intimate – more intimate than first love.’

This intimacy troubles me, and the extent to which we are truly ‘invited’ to be present at the time of dying. Intuitively and instinctively, it feels ‘wrong’ to allow someone you love (or indeed anyone) to die alone. Yet I also wonder whether, without explicit consent, it is one of the most intrusive and invasive things we, inadvertently, do.

I have no answer, apart from making my own wishes explicit to those I love.