For a long time, I imagined that once I had accomplished the next three things on my life to-do list, a small brass trio would break into a victory song and my life would then be absolutely amazing forever. Just writing that makes me fairly certain that I couldn’t possibly have consciously believed it. I mean, how could simply acquiring a degree, or a job, or more money, or a relationship, or a dog, or anything else actually make everything perfect? Still, part of me felt it.
I’m not sure I can say what that perfect life would have looked like, but in my fantasies, I was always relaxed, easy-going, sitting somewhere beautiful and enjoying every moment of the day. In these reveries I was also just a little better looking than I actually am, definitely thinner and in better shape, and my mental acuity was beyond measure. If Architectural Digest had seen my home, it would be featured on the next issue’s pages. There would never be a question about whether we were going to Paris for the summer—it would simply be deciding when and for how long. In other words, this perfect life would be whatever I wanted it to be without any of the pesky real-life problems that seemed to frequently break the spell of wonder.
Fast-forward to earlier this week. I’d just come back from a run and was standing with our very lazy dogs in the back yard. Spring is on its way to fullness and the air was light. I sat on the concrete step for a moment and started to lament the fact that someday I have to think about getting a new fence built. But then I was distracted by a squirrel who, midway through darting across the lawn. stopped on his haunches and looked right at me. It was a sweet moment.
I see now that I am probably the luckiest human in the world.
A few days earlier, we made dinner for Jodi’s grown kids and my best friend and her nearly adult girls. There was chaos, noise, chatter, movies, puzzles, and too much smoke from the barbecue, but it, too, was sweet. There was nothing perfect about it, but it was about as real as life gets. And that, of course is my point. One of my favorite things about being the age I am is realizing that the greatest moments are really mundane. They’re forgettable in the bigger picture, but rich and lovely as they happen.
Lying in bed in the morning reading The New York Times while the dogs sleep at our feet after the breakfast they wolfed down is really about as precious as anything I ever made up in my fanciful daydreams when I was younger. The earlier sunrise each day is just icing on the cake. A kind neighbor, my run with my best friend, a novel I can’t put down, a funny text from a pal. I see now that I am probably the luckiest human in the world.
I wonder sometimes why it takes us so long to appreciate the ordinary, and I imagine it has to do with following the trends of the time in which we grew up. Maybe it’s the universe’s way of making sure we stay ambitious enough to keep things moving. Whatever it is, I wish I’d gotten the real answer sooner. I spent my 30s, 40s, and even my 50s, mapping out my next moves—all on the route to the perfect existence. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy many, many small moments, but it would have been a relief to give my busy brain a break much sooner.
It’s also worth nothing that my deep appreciation of the basics doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped striving for things. I really want to publish a book, I long to travel as much as I possibly can, and part of why I’m slogging through those five-mile runs every day is because I’d like to lose a couple of pounds. It’s just that I’m fully aware now that signing copies of my book at a café in Paris and weighing five pounds less than I do right now is just a lovely image. I’m still going to be me and I’m still going to like and not like all the same things. It’s not really about not having goals and dreams. It’s more about all of the tiny, amazing bits of life that exist below those dreams, and the comfort I feel when I let myself enjoy their richness.