I originally wrote this for The Rutgers Review April/May 2014 issue. It is my last article with The Review, a publication that offered a home to the kinds of articles I love to write. To read other pieces I had published, head to my Writing Samples page, where I linked the Issuu to all of my articles. Today I am revisiting the piece after a few months of not looking at it, making edits, and adding some images.
In the midst of a deep conversation, a good date, a life-changing book, or a fun party, sometimes, I pause for just a moment and think to myself, “I am in this experience right now and this is great.” This personal practice is my way of reveling in an experience, my attempt to slow down the passing of time, and my method of actively being grateful. Well aware that one day I will fondly remember these days once they have passed, my ritual allows me to think that I have already outsmarted the chance of future nostalgia, and it puts me at ease. To be fondly appreciative of an experience as it is happening does away with the possibility of taking the moment for granted.
Wine-O’clock in Long Beach Island last week was not taken for granted.
My imprecise version of Zen is pieced together from the teachings of a few books, lessons learned while traveling, and the words of my oracles, my friends. I first consciously thought about “living in the now,” in high school. Back then, on quiet weekend nights in our hometown, my friends and I shared a ritual. We would pile into someone’s car and drive a mile down Atlantic Avenue to the Manasquan Inlet. Once parked we would roll down the windows, listen to our latest favorite music, smoke an occasional performative cigarette, and stare out at the thin stretch of water that separated the Atlantic Ocean from the Manasquan River, and Pt. Pleasant from Manasquan beach. Sometimes we played headlight tag with the cars parked across the way. We would sit here, making plans, texting whoever was in the know about where a party was.
Meggo’s car aka “the volv” parked at the inlet.
We spent hours there, asking, moaning, stressing vowels, “What are we going to doooooo tonight?” On nights when there were no plans to be had, we stayed at the inlet all night, just talking. Sometimes we felt a sense of disappointment that we were not out enjoying ourselves, talking to potential dates, making “the best” out of our high school years. My friend Vin especially, was usually first to leave the inlet on nights when the promise of evening plans fell through.
“I’m tired you guys, if we aren’t going to do anything I’m going home.” We all felt like that sometimes, we all got bored of the inlet. “Don’t you always hope that there’s going to be a keg and a party waiting for us at the inlet one of these nights,” Vin asked me once. “Isn’t that why we always come here?” His words speak shamelessly to the priorities of bored suburban kids in a beach town. We did not know exactly why we always returned to the inlet, we just knew it was our spot.
My friends Miss America-ing in my old Cabrio.
“At least we live near the beach, so we don’t have to park in like, a mall parking lot or something when we have nowhere else to go,” I would sometimes offer. I doubt the comment helped Vin’s perpetual disappointment. Somewhere buried in my words may have been the beginning of awareness that the inlet, with its choppy waters and seagulls overhead, was more than just a place for my friends and I to wait, it was our reality.
“Live in the now, Vin,” my friend Kat suggested one night. Her simple remark resonated. She meant be present. She meant enjoy our company. She meant sit in this car and smell the salt air and hear the melody coming from the radio and watch the boats that glide by in front of us and feel the cool breeze as it drifts down into the open sunroof. She meant to say that this moment is all we have, so be here now, rather than letting concerns for what will happen next consume you. In those days our concern was the possibility of being invited to a party. Today the concern is about how our lives will look and feel, and what truths we will live, when our time at college is over.
Just a few finger sandwiches away from it all being over.
When a certain life event, a fun night out, or an incredible novel comes to a close, the pressure to appreciate it feels heavier. In my final weeks as an undergraduate at Rutgers, I find myself remembering Kat’s words to Vin; “live in the now.” It’s not always so simple, especially considering the small talk questioning from neighbors and uncles asking, “so what’s next after graduation?” While I research careers and graduate programs at my desk beside a window that overlooks Easton Avenue, I pause to remind myself that this is my reality, and it is best to simply take delight in being here. It is a practice in balance, making preparations for the future while being present for all the little moments. It is a welcomed pleasure, the awareness and practice of just living in the now.