On moments, and the passing of time

24 October 2009

If life is a ceaseless river of time, then moments are the droplets making up the rushing stream. Moments are the opportunity we have to be aware of ourselves in the world, to realise that we are indeed alive.

But, most of these momentary opportunities pass us by because we are lost somewhere else in time, lost in the past or the future – anywhere but the here and now. This is why it can feel like life is somehow slipping through our fingers, even though we never mean for this to happen.

Only by grasping the moment we are in when we are in it, can we slow life down enough to really be there and experience it. And when we do, it truly is an incredibly elaborate mosaic.

I am over the halfway mark in my MSF mission. The time has passed both quickly and slowly; sometimes smooth and easy, but just as often it has been a grinding, halting struggle.

I can feel the passing of this time in the length of my hair and beard (I am in quite bad need of a trim) and the growing weariness in my body. I mark it by the daily dwindling of my vital supply of multivitamins. I know it by the comfort I now feel in once unfamiliar surroundings and the ease with which I now interact with those who were once strangers.

Being here has included some truly unconventional moments; and while some have been difficult to bear, I still feel privileged to have been present.

The jumble is hard to unravel sometimes, as it fits no standard pattern. There have been moments of anticipation, like waiting for a desperately sick child to show some sign of recovery; and ones of relief such as the blissful instant when the cool wave of air from the fan first hits my sweaty skin after the power has been out for a while on an impossibly hot day. There have been moments of despair while watching life slip from the eyes of a premature baby whose only mistake was being born in the wrong place at the wrong time. Moments of joy in watching buffalos bathing and children playing dusty, care-free games; and moments of exhaustion and resignation after another long but ultimately unsuccessful patient resuscitation. Even, occasionally, there have been moments of hope that things can and will be better for the people here and that we are a small part of making that happen.

Each of these moments is like a mini-life all of its own – a complete existence encapsulated in time. I believe that bound up somehow in each is the key or answer to life itself. If we can be fully and honestly present in any moment, whether it be superficially “great” or “terrible”, I believe we have the chance to glimpse something of this elusive secret.

It is said that there is no time like the present. I think it is more correct to say that there is no time but the present. So, if we fail to engage these moments in time as they present themselves to us, we are denying ourselves the chance to live.

My time in Pakistan continues to teach me many things. Most of all though, it has reinforced for me that the more time I spend being here, now (i.e. present in the moments of my life) the more alive I am. And only when I am alive like this is the power that I have to effect change (small though it may be) given its opportunity to work.

I am about to go on a much-anticipated leave. I need it body and mind. I am looking forward to moments of relaxation and fun and excitement, moments of escape and rest. My wish for you, whoever and wherever you are, is that you will find a way into the moments of your life, the ones that are there all the time, just waiting for you to enter. Because, they are where the magic happens…