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I literally stopped today and smelled the roses.
A friend of mine arranged for some flowers to be sent to me…just like that. Because people who love you randomly send roses to you just because they can.
It’s not surprising that I have some awesome friends in my life who root for me. What’s surprising is that, maybe, for the first time in my life, I actually picked up the flowers and took a deep breath and smelled the roses.
For the person I was before my big life tragedy in December 2020, this was a big step. During this period, apart from the many external lessons I learned, I also learned a lot about myself internally.
I learned that until then I’d been someone who never looked back. I thought that staying still and reminiscing about what had already happened and things over which I had no control was a complete and utter waste of time. My mantra then was this: The past is gone. It’s over. I can’t change it. So why look behind?
My entire focus back then was always on the future. Looking ahead (and almost residing in the future) worked perfectly for the ambitious person that I’ve always been. Sure, with time and age the ambitions have changed, but I was (and still am) a goal-driven person who always aimed to accomplish something. From wanting to win a screenwriting Oscar to becoming completely financially secure, the ambitions have changed but I’ve always been someone who thought and worried about the future.
Don’t get me wrong. I had fun and enjoyed life to the fullest, but my focus has always been consumed by the future.
During the months after this tragedy, I realized something profound. I realized that a person can only afford to live in the future if they have a solid support system in the present. And that’s what I had. I had a solid home base with people who loved me unconditionally and for whom I was always at the center of their universe—family who held me, supported me, encouraged me, and were there to catch me when I fell.
I’ve also been lucky to have some phenomenal friends—not many but a few close ones—who continue to anchor me. This built a solid foundation to my life and allowed me to fly. How fast and how high I flew changed, as did the ambition and goal posts that have evolved and shifted with time. But I always looked forward and lived in the future and was happy to do so.
And then December 2020 happened.
My whole world shifted and changed in that single month. In a span of a week, I lost my anchors. I lost my support system. I also lost people who I thought were close but found out that they really weren’t. I’ve written many articles on grief here at Elephant and one of the biggest truths I learned in that month and the many months afterward was that when my core base, my support system, my anchors left this world, the future no longer held any importance or interest to me.
So, I did a complete 180 and became someone who no longer cared about the future. As I sat with my grief, I realized that I was leading a regimented, routine, but almost indifferent life. I worked. I earned. I wrote. I ate. I slept. The routine started all over again the next morning. And I did all of it with no grand plan for future.
In fact, at that same time, I did a deep dive into my past.
For the first time in my life, I started to look back in time. After losing my support system, I started to relive every anecdote, every incident, every memory over and over again. A big part of why I started to look back, and still do, is based on the fear that I will forget those I lost. I pore through digital and physical photos of them repeatedly. I read their letters and messages. I listen to their voice messages on the phone. I watch the few videos I have of them on a loop. I listen avidly when friends and family regale me with memories of my departed anchors.
I do this so much that a few weeks back a dear friend of mine commented, “Roop, when I first knew you, it was always about the future for you. You never looked back. You looked down on people who constantly looked back on their lives. But now? I’ve never seen you live so much of your life in the past. It feels like you’re setting up base there, like astronauts on the moon.”
I was stunned. I mean, deep down I knew what my friend said was the absolute truth. Of course, I did. But when someone actually verbalized it to me, it was a huge shock.
I’d gone from being a control freak who was always looking toward a future I never had any control over to focusing on a past that was gone—one that I also had no control over. I’d only ever lived my life in two places: the future and the past. Two places where my life was completely out of my hands.
My friend’s comment made me literally sit down and think about myself and my journey thus far in life. And then something radically shifted inside of me. Look, it wasn’t as if the skies opened up or anything but some of the fog that had dogged me my whole life did shift a little to the side and things became clearer.
I realized that by worrying about the future and agonizing over the past, I’m missing out on the best part of life—the present.
I realized that going forward I need to live in the moment and enjoy every second of my life because it could be well be the last second of my life.
I realized that I literally needed to stop and smell the roses because I genuinely had no idea what they smelled like. I’d, honestly, never stopped long enough or cared enough to find out.
I finally realized that no matter how much I plan, nothing is really in my control. I’m not saying I’m going to become some hippy dippy person who lives life without considering the consequences, not that there is anything wrong with that—it’s just not who I am. But I’m aiming for a middle ground.
Because while I’ve planned and controlled my life to every miniscule detail, life has still found a way to screw me over right royally. So, what’s even the point?
I’ll still work hard and pursue my goals and think about my future. And I’m still going to live some of my life in the past. Not because I’m philosophizing and analyzing my experiences and wondering how they’ve shaped me into who I am today. No, I’ll think of the past because there were some incredible humans in my life who I loved and will love forever and thinking about the past is how I can visit them.
But (finally!) I’m learning and allowing myself to live in the present. To be in the moment. I’m looking out the window more. I’m paying attention…
To the hardworking ants that keep trotting somewhere with a purpose.
To the smells and beauty of orchids and hydrangeas and hibiscuses and roses.
To the little children squealing in the park opposite my home.
To every bit of the chocolate cake I allow myself to savor once a week.
To the veritable smorgasbord of colors on butterflies.
When I go for my morning walk, I don’t listen to music or podcasts. I look at my surroundings. I look at the cars buzzing past. I look at the trees that shed leaves. I look at the vegetable vendor haggling over the price of onions with his customer, and I wave to others walking by like me.
I’m experiencing my life now, as it happens.
I don’t have any profound takeaway from all this except to say, in your quest to plan for your future and never forget your past, don’t forget to live in the present. What we have right now is all we have any semblance of control over.
So, experience the present as it is happening to you.
I’m now living in the moment, and all I can say is that it feels fantastic.