‘Are we there yet?’
At a family dinner one night, the conversation drifted to out-of-town trips. My daughter Pizza began to reminisce about a recent trip to the southernmost tip of Quezon province, and how exhausted she had been playing nanny to three energetic balikbayan youngsters who kept asking the question kids blurt out during a long-distance journey: “Are we there yet?” So she told them stories, sang to and played games with them, and pointed out the local scenery, hoping they would feel that the journey itself could be fun while heading to their destination.
My daughter’s story made me muse on my own journey in life as I approach my 75th year. I asked myself whether I have been concentrating too much on the destination and forgetting to enjoy the journey. Whether I have been too excited about the future when I have to face my Maker, and neglecting to live in the present. Like a child on a long trip constantly asking: “Are we there yet?”
I remember our trip to Europe some years back for the Jubilee Year celebration at the Vatican. The trip started well, with my wife and me getting upgraded to business class because the airline clerk in Manila thought we were on our second honeymoon! That should have settled me down, but no, I kept obsessing over our children whom we had left behind. I was also excited about the countries we planned to visit, the places we wanted to see, and the friends we longed to meet. Thus, I overlooked the amenities of the business class that the airline had extended to us for free.
And during our 29-day tour of Western Europe by Eurail, I dwelled on whether we would be able to catch the designated train to our next destination and whether we could find a good lodging place for the night. Again, I missed enjoying and appreciating what I was seeing and experiencing for the first, and perhaps the last, time.
But God in His own time and in His own way made me realize my folly and set me aright.
Sometime after our trip to Europe, I had life-threatening episodes from a massive heart attack and a subsequent quintuple bypass surgery. I survived both ordeals. But more than that, I realized that my time on earth is brief, that death is like a thief that can come at a time I least expect it, and that the future is still to come and all I have at the moment is a God-given present.
I have also since become interested in the spirituality of the present moment. I started reading about “living in the present”—the buzzwords of the New Age generation and espoused by Eckhart Tolle in his book “The power of now.” Happily, Catholic writers have brought it into the realm of Christian spirituality. In an article titled “Being Present to God and Life,” Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, lays down the truth that God is within us and not outside of us but that we are not aware of it and, thus, seek Him outside of us. He goes on to say: “Sadly, this is also true of our presence to the richness of our own lives. Too often we are not present to the beauty, love, and grace that brim within the ordinary moments of our lives. Bounty is there, but we aren’t.”
Today, my family says that I seem to enjoy life now with a little bit more zest than before. I have learned to let go and to just accept the present moment as time that would never come again. My senses are easily awakened even by mundane things. I have become fully alert to find small miracles even in ordinary events or things—in an encounter with a stranger, in an idea that pops out of nowhere, or in beautiful scenery. And even the ordinary acts of daily living—of waking up in the morning, of walking outdoors, breathing, eating, and even just playing with my grandchildren—become prayer moments of thanksgiving to God.
And so, let me enjoy the moment now instead of asking: “Are we there yet?”
Danilo G. Mendiola, 74, is retired from corporate work and now serves with his wife in the Marriage Prep Ministry of their parish in Quezon City.
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