When I first moved to Sydney I made friends with a group of Europeans. For the four days that our friendship lasted, we were inseparable. We’d all meet up in the hostel lobby at a set time and then head off on an adventure.
On our last day together, we were all walking back to the hostel after a few hours of sightseeing. I was walking beside the German girl who had suddenly gone silent. I glanced over at her and noticed she was staring up at the sky, watching a plane go by. She told me that she was going back home to Germany tomorrow, that she had just finished her one year abroad as an Au Pair. She pointed up at the plane and said, “When I first arrived here I would watch planes fly above and think to myself, ‘one day that’s going to be me’ and now, it is.”
That has stuck me with me ever since. Now, whenever I see a plane fly overhead I am reminded that my time in Australia is temporary; that one day I will be on one of those planes, leaving it all behind. This gentle reminder causes me to savour the moment. It encourages me to go out of my way to do something exciting, or at very least, anchor myself to the current moment, wherever that current moment might be. Whether it be enjoying the presence of great friends, or feeling the sun on my back, or just noticing the palm trees blowing softly in the wind. It makes feel so grateful that this was something I finally got to experience.
Anyone who lives with the knowledge that this city/apartment/person/pet will not be here in a year is going to do what they can to value, appreciate and enjoy the hell out of that certain thing until its gone. I remember my Dad telling me a story about a friend of his (let’s call him Jim) whose mother was diagnosed with cancer. He was told by doctors that she’d be dead within six months. The family, shocked and devastated by the news, did as much as they possibly could together. They hurriedly checked off bucket list items and ran each other ragged trying to live each day like it was his truly her last. In the end, his Mother lived another 10 years. When she finally died my Dad called him and said, “Jim, I’m so sorry, I kno-“ before my Dad could finish, Jim replied “Are you kidding me? We’re celebrating!” This story may or may not be a joke that I took seriously but regardless it holds an important lesson: appreciate and value your loved ones so much so that when it’s their time to go, you will quite literally be celebrating because you didn’t take a single moment with them for granted. Its very unlikely that it will be a complete celebration and savouring each and every moment is close to impossible, but you might as well aim for that.
Similarly, an impending expiration date is great for dating and relationships. It’s like a metaphorical shot of vodka before asking the girl/guy out, there is just nothing to lose. Oddly enough, this kind of relaxed, confident and carefree attitude naturally attracts people anyway. Then when you finally meet that special someone, it’s so much easier to jump in without reservation; to enjoy it for what it is, for however long it might last. Less time is wasted on playing games or being ‘hard to get.’ Although these relationships may be speedy, at least you aren’t wasting time dealing with the wrong people by going through all the same motions but just at a snail’s pace. Short relationships tend to be given less credit simply because they are short-lived. To me, a relationship lasting a month can be just as potent and powerful as decade long ones. The length of time is irrelevant, what matters is how deeply it shook you.
Living life with the mentality that we need to make the most of what we have now leaves so much more room for joy and gratitude. Evidently, in the grand scheme of things, we too as mortal creatures have an expiration date. But on a day to day basis its difficult to conceptualise an actual ending to all of this, its deceptive in its way of appearing endless in supply. Its easy to fall into the trap of taking things for granted, its our default mode. On the other end of the spectrum, the romanticised notion of living each day like its your last is completely unsustainable and sometimes even dangerous. If I truly thought I’d be dead tomorrow I’d be a mess because I’m very curious about what heroin feels like.
This is why planes flying are the perfect balance between YOLO and ‘calm down I have to work tomorrow.’
Now whenever I see a plane gliding by I feel thankful for the reminder that everything changes and nothing lasts forever. Acknowledging this can either bring a sigh of relief when things are rough or pangs of sadness when things are going great. Learning to let things take their natural course requires resiliency, trust and acceptance. Sometimes we have to ease the grip we have on “our five year plans” or ideas on where should be now and accept where we actually are. Sometimes we need to learn how to quieten that voice that criticizes us and remind ourselves that we are trying our best, each journey is different and we deserve to give ourselves some credit. Sometimes we just need to trust that everything will be okay.
So perhaps the lesson is this: take life sections, take it such a way that the ending is still in plain sight. Go into new experiences with the mentality that it will not last forever, because surprise surprise, nothing does. Savour the times when things are going well, allow yourself to enjoy every ounce of that moment, don’t let it slip by.
Maybe we all need to find our own airplane overhead reminding us to savour and enjoy the here and now. At the end of the day, right now is really all we have, we might as well make the most of it.
[Cover image via Alex Tracey]