You open your eyes. You take in your surroundings. Perhaps look over at your alarm clock. Or glance at your spouse next to you. Or simply stare at the ceiling. You may yawn. You may stretch. Your mind is slowly beginning to stir, the brain cells ignited, the autopilot thoughts called to order. The body set for action.
You are, so it seems, awake.
The shower, the brushing of teeth, the body lotion, the underwear, the shirt, the coffee, the cereal, the television, the newspaper, the car keys, the footsteps, the good mornings, the job, the gym, the meals, the hugs, the goodnights…they simply come and go. All perfunctory elements of life. You don’t really experience them because, well, you don’t have to. And, after all, what is there to experience? The warm droplets of water in the shower? The bitter taste of coffee? The cars honking in traffic? Your annoying boss? Your even more annoying wife? The noise of the latest television commercial?
No, there really isn’t much to experience. And even if there was something to experience with the brushing of teeth, coffee or traffic, would it really be worth all the effort? Do you really need yet another ‘thing’ in your already complicated life? Of course not!
Plus, if there really was something to be experienced within all these perfunctory tasks, these basic daily routines, then surely you would be able to tell. Without a doubt you would be able to see something that deserves your attention. Proof in the matter being the matatu you saw heading towards you, just in time for you to swerve out of the way before it hit you. You also noticed the rotten bananas in the market and hence wisely didn’t purchase them. And you did hear the news about the interest rates going up and made a note to call your financial planner. So obviously you were paying attention.
Clearly no one can accuse you of not experiencing things or not being present. Which is why you can’t understand why your boss constantly yells at you to pay attention to details. Can he not tell how hard you’re working? How much effort you put into that report? How you show up every morning, without fail, at 8:30am sharp, and dutifully do what you’re told without so much as a thank you? Can he not tell how unappreciated you feel? All this work for so little money! How dare he say you don’t pay attention to details! Whatever… he’s just an ill-tempered, sad, manipulative old man venting out his (major) issues on you and trying to exploit your hard work.
So what if you might have made some minor errors. How can anyone even expect you to fully pay attention anyway when you have so much pressure, so many bills to be paid, so many things to be done just to survive? It’s enough to simply feed your family, but now you have to worry about your mortgage going up? How are you meant to figure out how to pay back all those debts you owe? Will you ever be able to pay them back? And what about those health bills you have to take care of for your mother? How are you meant to be able to provide for everyone when the money you earn is never enough, despite the tremendous amount of work you put in?
It’s almost too much to handle. And now, after such a long day, drowning in the currents of stress, you have to go home and spend time with your kids. They expect you to play in the garden with them, to teach them how to ride a bicycle, and to watch cartoons with them, because you promised to, yesterday. You want to, you really do – you are a loving, caring, devoted parent. You would do anything for your children. But now, right now, you are just so tired. Please, you ask them, can they let you just rest today? Tomorrow you will be able to play. That’s a promise. They are upset. But they do what you say, because they have to.
You feel bad, but one day they will understand. One day they will realize how hard you work to support them, to take care of them, to give them everything they want. One day they will understand how much a parent loves a child. One day they may be able to grasp just how hard you’ve been trying, struggling, doing everything in your power to give them the life that they deserve to have; the one that you never had. One day they may be able to understand just how tired you are, right now. One day. But obviously, not today. Today you need to rest.
First, you need a beer, then you need to watch some television, then you need some food, then you need to rest. If only it were that simple, because now that the kids are finally asleep you have to deal with the biggest stress of them all – your wife! Eish, let’s not even get started… Always seeking attention – that woman! Why, you will never understand. What does she even mean you’re not listening, are you not standing right there in front of her? Maybe if she stopped talking for just one second (ONE second!) she would realize that you are listening to whatever on earth it is that she’s saying, but the problem, if only she would realize, is that she is actually talking nonsense.
But you love her, you sincerely do. You just wish there was an off button like on the remote control, so you could look at her and be with her, because you really do want to look at her and be with her, but not have to really see or listen to her. But you do, without a doubt, love her with all your heart. You sincerely, sincerely do. Which is why for now, for today, you simply nod and smile. And say ‘ok dear.’
Finally you lay your aching body on your bed. Your head hits the pillow. Your weighted eyelids cloak your vision. Just before you surrender you think about tomorrow… because tomorrow it will be different.
Tomorrow you will wake up and feel alive. Tomorrow you will have this newfound energy, this zest for life. Tomorrow you will finally be happy. Tomorrow you will hug your children, kiss your wife, greet the neighbor, thank the shopkeeper, talk to the employer, laugh at the TV show and maybe even sing in the shower!
Tomorrow you will have a new job that gives you satisfying rewards, a new boss who actually listens to you. Because of the new job, tomorrow you will have paid off all your debts. Tomorrow the mortgage will no longer loom over your head. Tomorrow you will finally be able to start planning that much desired vacation. Or you will finally have that fast, shiny, traffic-defying car you’ve been dreaming about.
More importantly, tomorrow you will have so much energy you will be able to play with your children for hours on end. You will even get started on building that tree house they talked about! Tomorrow you will teach them how to ride a bike. Tomorrow you will tell them how special they are, how much you love them, and how they are destined to grow up into amazing, successful individuals.
And tomorrow you will finally, finally, be able to listen to your wife. Not because you have to, but because you want to. You will at long last have the desire to hear her. Tomorrow you will buy something special for her. You will wine and dine her, tell her just how beautiful and exquisite she is. You will tell her how much her support means to you. You will explain why you’ve been withdrawn. You will admit to having one too many beers and commit to cutting down. You will promise, and this time really mean it, to put more effort into your marriage. You will show her just how much you love her; you will do all of this and more. Tomorrow.
Tomorrow really will be different, just you wait and see.
And I believe you, because if there is anything we can trust upon it is that tomorrow will be different. As will tomorrow’s tomorrow, and all the tomorrows after that.
Of course, you will be different too. Because how you are now is just temporary. Today, right now, over here, ‘you’ – this is just a pit stop to the real stuff. The real ‘you’ is yet to come. The real life is yet to begin. The real experience of living awaits. You can see it; it’s there. But it’s over there. And perhaps way over there. But it is there.
It’s just not here, at least not right now because first you have to do all this stuff in order to get over there. You have to learn how to walk, talk, read and write. Then you have to learn stuff about the world, about how things work, about how things are done, about what you should and should not be doing. And boy, that is a whole lot of stuff. You’ll probably spend many, many, many years just learning this stuff.
Then you have to actually do the stuff you have learnt how to do. You have to prove that you can walk, talk, read and write. You have to prove that you know how things work and how things are done. You might even actually have to do work. Only then, when you are not only doing the right stuff, but also doing the right stuff the right way, only then can you be rewarded.
This matters because it is only by being rewarded that you are able to do the stuff that really matters. You know, such as finding food, securing shelter, having clothes, and keeping your family safe… all the really important stuff.
Once you have taken care of the stuff that really matters, you can get to the stuff that makes you feel good, the stuff you enjoy doing. Perhaps talking to someone. Perhaps laughing. Perhaps listening to music. Perhaps dancing. Perhaps reading. Perhaps staring at the sky. Perhaps doing work that excites you. Perhaps excelling at your job. Perhaps playing with your kids. Perhaps hearing your kids laugh. Perhaps talking to your wife. Perhaps making love to your wife. Perhaps fully experiencing life – but, of course, only the real life. The one that’s worth fully experiencing.
But all of that comes later. And that later is far, far beyond tomorrow’s tomorrow. So far it’s probably not even worth thinking about now. Because now you must focus on what really matters, what needs to be done now. The imperatives. Tomorrow you will take care of the rest. That’s a promise.
So you might as well go to bed. Sleep. Then open your eyes. Set the gears into action. Grab the soap. Lather. Scrub. Rinse. Repeat.
Tomorrow really will be different.
Just you wait and see.