I am 5. I have my whole life before me. What will I become? A fireman. A policeman. A construction worker.
I am 15. I have my whole life before me. What will I become? A lawyer. An architect. An inventor.
I am 21. I have my whole life before me. What will I become? A writer. An artist. A god.
I am 44. I have lived more than half my life. What will I become? Dust. Ashes. A fading memory.
We think differently at different times about how much time we have before us and what we can become with this time. But who among us can spend, right now, anything more than the present moment?
At 5, at 15, at 21, at 44, I only have this moment to live. We are never promised anything more than right now. The difference, at 44, is how many and what kind of experiences I have built up until now. In a sense, the 5 year old and the 44 year old have exactly the same amount of time to live and the future never exists. In a mystery, each morning we awaken with a sense of continuity with our past, but we are not the same as we were. The differences are often only discernible by contrasting two distinctly different ages. But who at 44 can know exactly what that 15 year old was experiencing, let alone the 5 year old? In memory we can only ever re-evaluate our past experiences in light of our experiences since then. We constantly change our past to fill it up and derive meaning from it for today. We constantly look to the future in hope or despair of what we may become and we carelessly waste what we are and can be in this moment. To live impulsively today with no thought for the future can leave some future self destitute, financially or emotionally. To defer all present value to some future fulfillment is to gamble on a mirage. The best we can aim for is what holds value both right now and for our possible future selves. I don’t doubt, though, that faffing around in the here and now holds a sort of eternal value if only we’re fully present to it. It’s the wasting time pretending we’re somehow different than we are that will always result in true loss.