Learning to live in the present includes actually doing it
Sometimes knowing what's best doesn't mean we act accordingly
When my wife, Jill, was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease (HD) in 2018, I thought I had already learned the lesson about appreciating loved ones while they are alive.
Almost 20 years ago, my eldest sister, Nancy, died of cancer. Then, in the past 13 years, my father, mother, and remaining sister also died. So I knew life was fragile. Their deaths made me appreciate and cherish the people who mean the most to me. Or at least I thought they did.
After Jill’s diagnosis, I grew concerned that I would project into the future all sorts of horrible scenarios about her suffering. Compounding my bleak thoughts for the future was knowing that our daughter, Alexus, was also diagnosed with HD.
As a result, I became obsessed with the concept of living in the present moment. As a Catholic, this meant I resolved to be grateful for all of God’s blessings and Divine Providence in each moment and to not worry about the future.
A difficult truth
I have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and being hyperfocused is one way this chronic condition manifests itself. I didn’t just read a few books about the topic. I read every book I could find on it. I read everything I could on the internet. I talked about it at work, and I started writing about it on a website I created. I learned so much I could have filled a library with all the knowledge I had accumulated.
Finally, one day I decided I was at peace because I had mastered how to live in the present moment — or at least I thought I had.
One evening, while on the phone with a colleague who was having family issues, I shared that one of the keys in life was appreciating your loved ones in the moment and not being bogged down by past disagreements.
“Living in the past is not healthy,” I said to my colleague. “Neither is worrying about what’s going to happen next in your relationships with them. What’s important is to forgive and to love them in the moment.”
Jill laughed as she walked through the room when she heard this pep talk. After I hung up, I asked her what was so funny.
She asked me if I really wanted to know because it could hurt my feelings. I was touched, but I was curious to hear what she wanted to say.
“OK,” she said. “You asked for it. Living in the present moment is a great concept, but you don’t live in the present moment. You have spent all of your time learning about being in the present moment. You have not lived in it.”
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to argue with her. It was her opinion. It was wrong, but it was still her opinion. I asked her for a detailed explanation.
She sighed. She asked me to think about how much time I spent doing all of my research, giving advice, and working on the website.
I saw her point, but I needed to understand what she meant. She replied that all the time I spent on the topic was all time I didn’t spend engaged with her and our daughter. Sure, I was in the same room with them for much of it, but I wasn’t paying attention to them. I had my head buried in a book, on the computer, or was talking on the phone.
My wife explained that I would often miss something important during a conversation because I wasn’t paying attention to the conversion, and she and Alexus would later share between themselves how “glad” they were that I was in the present moment with them.
I was stunned by her truth bomb. But I knew she was correct. I was missing out on time with them. I had become the expert who didn’t practice what he preached.
After that conversation, I promised to give more of my presence and attention to my family. This mindset — to be truly present to those I love — is something I work on every day. I know I am far from perfect, but I hope Jill knows that whatever havoc HD may bring to our lives, I will be present to help her deal with it as best I can.
Note: Huntington’s Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Huntington’s Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Huntington’s disease.