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Cascade Observations: 'Today is a gift'

Be here now.

Three syllables, three words, one big idea. When I was in high school, I disdainfully associated this short sentence with hippies and the drug culture. I didn’t try to understand what it meant; I was busy planning for what was to come, writing essays for college applications and dreaming of my future.

At Kirkland College, a progressive school in upstate New York, I began to have an inkling of what “Be here now” might mean. In the painting studio I immersed myself in the color, smell and feel of oil paint, losing track of time. Hours later, I would emerge from my painting stupor, often surprised and delighted by the canvas in front of me.

Today, I’ve rechanneled my creativity from canvases to kids. Over the course of a week, I work with almost 500 elementary school children.

The littlest ones have the most to teach me about “Be here now.” Five-year olds don’t dwell upon their futures — they’re too busy sharing stories about their teeth falling out, the raccoon their dad shot, the rainbow outside, or the cupcake they just ate. They squeal with delight when I set out the paint. For the next half an hour, pushing paint around is entirely captivating.

When our daughter was 5, it was difficult for her to understand the passage of time. We would tell her that we were leaving home in an hour. She would ask how long an hour was. We eventually settled on using the Mr. Rogers television show to mark time — we were leaving in one Mr. Rogers, two Mr. Rogers, etc. It seemed to satisfy her.

At 26, our daughter is getting the biggest lesson of her young life in “Being here now.” A relative she is very close to has been diagnosed with leukemia. Yesterday the relative was healthy; today she is receiving a bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy. There may or may not be a future for her; she only has “now.” Rose asks us how she can help her relative; we can only say “Be here now for her.”

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It’s easy to say “Be here now” but more difficult to live those words. Luckily, I have teachers helping me do so. On Saturday mornings when obligations don’t get in the way, I head off to yoga class. There, our instructor reminds us to pay attention to our breath. When we find our minds roaming to the “shoulda, coulda, wouldas” she gently eases us back to the present, to the rhythms of our breathing. By the end of class, our muscles are stretched and our minds focused.

Sunday afternoons are another perfect time to remember to live in the present. The end of the weekend can bring with it regrets for tasks undone and dreaded anticipation of Monday morning work issues. My husband’s family taught me years ago to appreciate Sunday afternoons. It was a Sunday tradition to gather at my in-laws’ home. We’d visit while we ate my father-in-law’s famous popcorn, worked in the wood shop, balanced homemade tops and watched silly movies.

Today, my father-in-law is gone, but his Sunday afternoon legacy continues with several generations. My nephew has created “Don’s Place” in an unused corner of his parents’ basement. On some rainy winter afternoons we gather there, surrounded by woodworking tools and memorabilia from Don’s life. If the sun is shining and the weather is mild, we’ll often meet at The Gorge White House.

When we get together, I delight in my nieces and nephews. They are no longer children. They have responsible jobs, spouses and fiancés. They have mortgages and retirement savings plans. Yet on any given Sunday afternoon, we are all children again, sharing stories and jokes, and appreciating each other’s company. As I gaze around the table of familiar faces, I’m reminded of a famous quote I once put on a Christmas card: “Yesterday’s history, tomorrow’s a mystery. Today is a gift; that’s why they call it the present.”

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