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With Intention

I read the obituaries every day; it’s a habit I’ve had for some time. Mostly it’s just a way to see names I might recognize, or to sit in wonder as I imagine the arc of someone’s life. Secretly, I’m scanning each one to see how old the person was and then compare that to my own age. It’s all part of this overriding feeling I have had for much of the last decade. While the years leading to this one seem nearly infinite as I look back, the time ahead feels shorter than ever. And, of course, it is.

Because I love the poet Mary Oliver, Jodi once printed and framed the lovely last line of “The Summer Day” for me. It is here on my desk in front of me, a reminder. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious live?” I think of that almost daily because of this nagging feeling that I must do everything now that there is so little time left. I walk the tightrope, then, between just experiencing whatever comes my way and making a point of being fully present in every moment.

I want the sense that I experienced everything I could with as little judgment as possible, and that I told the truth.

These days I’m leaning much more toward the latter because I’m beginning to believe it’s the key to the former. Especially in such troubling times, living with intention feels like the most responsible way to be. When I wake up in the morning and feel the stress of the day ahead of me, I believe now that I can decide how I want to react. I didn’t used to think about that. My responses were either spontaneous or so controlled that neither result felt truly like me. Now, I consider what lies ahead and how I would like to feel at the end of the day. Almost always, I want the sense that I experienced everything I could with as little judgment as possible, and that I told the truth.

Going out in the world with the intention of being present means I need to see, hear, touch, smell, taste, experience. It means I need to purposely stop myself from dwelling on the past or looking at my watch because I need to move on to the next thing. It means that I need to muster my self-discipline and keep myself from reveries of what I might rather be doing. Intentionally being present sounds about as simple as a thing can be. What more is there than just being where you are? You just have to stand there or sit there, right? Yet even that belies the truth when I find myself staring at my phone, or gazing out the window when someone is talking, or even leaning away from the person who is speaking, my arms folded in front of me. It’s so easy to not really engage that I’m learning the value of making presence be my intention.

I also realize how many barriers I’ve put in my own way throughout the years. I’m a great one, for example, for planning too many events or appointments one right after the other. This limits my time, of course, in every situation. It causes me to stop being present at least 15 minutes before our time is really up. I’m starting to worry that I’ll be late for my next thing and wondering how I’ll make it all work. And there, in an instant, I’ve missed a fourth of an hour with the person I’m talking to. So much for my intention to be present. And then I remember another frequent intention: Forgive myself. As old as I am, I’m still learning, still growing, still trying.

Whatever my intention, the point is simple. My days feel so precious to me now. I don’t want to miss any of them. Whether I remind myself to be in it, or to find things to love today, or to be patient, or to try something that scares me, what I really want is to feel like I was in the world as fully as I could be. If I have any regret, it will be for inattention more than anything else--for letting so much happen without engaging. My time is short, relatively speaking, but not too short to continue stepping into the world with courage and intention whenever I can.

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