Dear ones —
I wanted to share this poem with you, by Carl Dennis. I clipped it out of the New Yorker a few years ago, and it has hung on the bulletin board over my desk ever since. It is, to my eye, a sweet and humane cautionary tale about the potential dangers of trying too hard to live in the moment. I love the meditations of Marcus Aurelius, too, so this one is especially poignant to me. Here goes:


To live each day as if it might be the last
Is an injunction that Marcus Aurelius
Inscribes in his journal to remind himself
That he, too, however privileged, is mortal,
That whatever bounty is destined to reach him
Has reached him already, many times.
But if you take his maxim too literally
And devote your mornings to tinkering with your will,
Your afternoons and evenings to saying farewell
To friends and family, you'll come to regret it.
Soon your lawyer won't fit you into his schedule.
Soon your dear ones will hide in a closet
When they hear your heavy step on the porch.
And then your house will slide into disrepair.
If this is my last day, you'll say to yourself,
Why waste time sealing drafts in the window frames
Or cleaning gutters or patching the driveway?
If you don't want your heirs to curse the day
You first opened Marcus's journals,
Take him simply to mean you should find an hour
Each day to pay a debt or forgive one,
Or to write a letter of thanks or apology.
No shame in leaving behind some evidence
You were hoping to live beyond the moment.
No shame in a ticket to a concert seven months off,
Or, better yet, two tickets, as if you were hoping
To meet by then someone who'd love to join you,
Two seats near the front so you catch each note.
— Carl Dennis

This poem has always reminded me of an essay I once read by a guy named Kai Krause, who said that it is all very well to live in the moment, but that there is also real and tremendous human happiness to be found in savoring our fond memories of the past, or dreaming of a sweet future. His suggestion, which gently challenged some pretty fundamental notions of Zen philosophy, was that, in order to live happy and balanced lives, we really should give as much attention to the past and the future as we do to the present. Krause's philosophy, in a nutshell, was this: "Make plans and take pictures."

ANYHOW, what do you guys think? One way or another, I think it's a lovely poem for a cloudy Tuesday morning.

For more Carl Dennis, see here:

And for Marcus Aurelius's Meditations (a beautiful book everyone should own), see here:

Big love,

via Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook Wall

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