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The Most Important Thing (Experiment #2)
If nothing matters, then what actually matters?
It was Monday morning and I was driving my kid to school, which is to say it was more of the same, which is to say I was somewhere between vaguely pissed off and irretrievably buried in a smoldering heap of caretaking resentment, which is to say I have children, which is to say I was a snarling loop of Why do I have to be in charge of every single damn thing every morning?!
I had spent 20 minutes in a gratitude meditation at dawn, which turned out to be an oddly terrible set-up for this particular morning. Floating along on a cloud of beauty and bliss did nothing but heighten the insult when my kid hit me because I had the audacity to wake him up for school, which is to say he brought his hand forcefully down on mine as it was gently shaking him awake. My beatific reverie of daisies and butterflies went up instantly into a flaming tween-age hellscape.
So now I was driving to school mad. But, really, from now on, I should probably just get glad when I’m mad, because it seems that the mad bits of my in-between times are fertile ground for devising intriguing experiments.
Tapping my brakes on the slow shuffle to the freeway, I found myself thinking, “What is even important, if we’re all gonna end up six feet under at some point, anyway?”
Dear reader, if you are nodding along, I love you.
And if you’re waving a self-satisfied hand in the air crowing, What about family? Isn’t family the most important thing? Then, congratulations! You win for dishing up the world’s most obvious (and perhaps most gag-inducing?) answer.
I love my family! And of course, they’re important. But how does, “Family is the most important thing,” help you when you’re frustrated in a meeting at work, or when you’re pumping gas, when you’re staring into the abyss of the refrigerator lamenting about the futility of dinner? I’m sorry, but family can’t really be “the most important thing” in every minute of your day, can it?
Which brings us back to the original question of the most important thing. And the answer I am currently experimenting with.
What if the Most Important Thing in your life is just the Right Now Thing?
And what if whatever is the Right Now Thing is the Most Important Thing?
So if you’re with your family at dinner time, then yes, that’s your Right Now Thing and you should definitely go ahead and give it all you’ve got! Giggle with your kids, look them in the eye and ask them what mattered to them today. Commiserate together about how life can be both wonderful and a pain in the ass, then remind them that you are always here to listen, that nothing they do can change your love for them.
And then, when it’s time to get up and wash the dirty dishes, that, my friend, becomes your Right Now Thing, and hence, the most important thing—so time to kick some ass! Flip the faucet’s lever and marvel at the stream of water turning from cold to warm (or even all the way up to blistering hot if you’re my mother, whose family nickname is “Asbestos hands”).
Hold each plate, feeling its weight and texture as the water swirls down from the rim, twisting and swirling eagerly over stray corn kernels and the spaghetti piling up in the drain catcher.
Maybe try that movie-camera pan-out thing where the camera zooms out and out, and out again, so that now you’re not only standing at the sink holding dishes but you’re also a satellite orbiting the earth, looking down to see that you are a human rinsing a plate on a planet of billions of humans all doing their own Right Now things, living and loving and scrubbing and hugging and reading and sighing and hitting and grinning and longing and pushing and tapping the brakes and wondering what’s important.
When you’re almost done with the dishes and you feel tired and annoyed at how cleaning up the kitchen always takes 10 minutes longer than you wish it would, then that’s your Right Now Thing, so do that! Really feel how exasperation sours your chest and tightens your shoulders and somehow seems to reduce your hearing by 50%. (It also almost always makes it harder for me to swallow for some weird reason.)
Go ahead and tell your annoyance, “Right now, you’re my most important thing,” but even as the words are forming into a thought that you could speak aloud, the irritation is fading away, because there is a new Right Now—your daughter is asking to make popcorn and your son is showing you the meme dance he saw on YouTube today and your husband is giving you the squeeze that means I’m here. I love you and this life we’ve made together.
So, the experiment is really just this—ask yourself, in your in-between moments:
What is my Right Now thing?
What is the best way to Now?
Then lean all the way in, with gusto. If your Right Now is scrolling your phone or procrastinating on something hard or important, well, okay! Maybe it’s all good, let’s see what happens if you do it with vigor and intention.
Be the best procrastinator you can be! Let your heart melt all the way down when you see those adorable puppies and babies, tap allll the hearts to “like” and “love” those posts (including this one!) and let the content creators know when they’ve nailed it. Leave a comment at the end to say I’m here. I’m grateful for you and this planet we’re all on, trying to navigate together. Fill your heart with all the silly, educational, awe-inspiring, internet-y things until you’re brave enough to face the scary or the tedious.
And if your Right Now Thing is a kid is slapping at your hand because he’s tired and doesn’t want to get up, you can make that the best Now, too. Feel the sting and remember his brain is far from developed. Go ahead and let your daisies burn to the ground and feel mad and a little sad. And then remind yourself that you’re doing a heck of a job and you can handle this.
That’s why they put you in in charge of all damn things every morning.
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