By Leigh Waggoner
“This moment” is all there is. And the moment that existed when you read that first sentence no longer is. Another moment – “this moment” is all there is.
Because we have brains that can store information as memory and can also extrapolate and project beyond “this moment,” we sense that moments are connected – that they extend over time, when in fact, “this moment” – now – is all there is.
We often talk about the desirability of “living in the moment.” Maybe we are trying to cope by reigning in our incessant planning for the future and our interminable referencing a past. Maybe we think that “living in the moment” can save us from what seems to be inevitable – ensuing chaos.
That said, and no matter how appealing “this moment” may be, we live by story. We make sense and meaning of our lives by that string of events we project backward and forward from “this moment,” calling them past, present and future. In the stories of our lives we call them beginnings, middles and ends. We all know that one single moment does not a story make, even if it is all there is.
Stories are, however, just stories. And they are unique to each of us. What I perceive in “this moment” is not, and cannot be, what you perceive. Because the accumulation of everything that makes me who I am creates a framework out of which I perceive my world, my story will never be the same as yours.
We humans live in the tension between “this moment” and the unique stories we create with their pasts, presents and futures.
A particular story, the story of Sept. 11, is again upon us. We who remember that day think we remember the same story, but we can’t. We have, however, been handed a story that we’ve been told we must never forget. Our leaders and media re-tell that story, at least the parts that reinforce our feeling that to forget it is to be negligent, heartless, un-American, and for some, un-Christian. And what we will be told that we must remember are violence perpetrated against us, the ensuing trauma among us, and our vulnerability.
We may be reminded of selflessness, but mostly we will be maneuvered to re-member (viscerally feel again) the fear that is wrought of violence, trauma and vulnerability. We will not be reminded that fear is the opposite of love, nor that the Biblical commandment is to “Love our enemies and do good to those who hate us.” (Luke 6: 27) The dominant message points out that fear is a primordial emotion that precludes sympathy, much less empathy, and therefore separates us from our fellow human beings. And it would be most unusual if we were to hear that fear provides the motivation out of which we justify becoming, ourselves, perpetuators of violence.
In place of the quotidian aspects of life – cooking a meal, calling a friend, taking a walk with the dog – you and I will be brought face to face with a story – an exceptional story/ an aberrant story – that tells us we are a nation under attack. And because of our annual rehearsal of that story, we will be less able to be present with “this moment” in which beauty and joy and generosity and forgiveness and hope and love abound.
Stories help orient us in this world. Stories help us learn and grow. Stories are not bad, and “this moment” IS all there is, and it is in “this moment” that God/the great Mystery/I AM exists. As people of faith, we would do well to balance the stories we tell (whether from today’s media or the media of centuries ago we call the Bible) with the awareness and experience of fullness of “this moment.”
Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. She can be reached at 565-7865, or firstname.lastname@example.org.