One of my favorite memories of childhood was playing wiffleball in my backyard.
My brother, some kids in the neighborhood, and I spent hours back there pretending we were Lenny Dykstra, Doc Gooden, and numerous other 1980’s era players.
We coined it the “Backyard Wiffleball League,” and it was serious business.
To the left of the field was our above-ground pool, there was a large tree in the outfield area, and our deck offered an enticing short porch in left field.
I often practiced my switch-hitting skills and perfected a curveball that, when it caught a bit of air, looked like a young Gooden’s nasty sweeping overhand money pitch.
I don’t remember the last time I played out there. My parents sold the house around 2000 when I was 23, but we played the last game many years prior.
We weren’t conscious that it was the last game we would play. We grew out it. As we got older and stronger, every time we hit the ball it would clear the fence or deck. Besides, as we entered our teenage years, there were girls to chase and beer to drink, so playing games of wiffleball would no longer feel fun.
I find myself missing those innocent long days, which felt never ending. I know twenty-four hours is twenty-four hours, but now each day feels shorter. In those days, two hours felt like two days. Two hours now feels like two minutes.
There was nothing to do and no real responsibilities to attend to. As autumn fell and the days got shorter, we would stay out until neither batter nor fielder could even see the ball. That’s when we knew it was time to go in for the night.
Your last time is inevitable
We often remember the first time we do something, but not the last. The sad reality of life is that at some point there will be a last time we do all things that bring us joy.
Time is merciless. This point became clear a few weeks ago when my son, who will soon be six, was laying on the couch with me, his head buried on my chest. He still loves to cuddle. One day, he won’t want to anymore.
There will be a last time, and when I realized it I got sad.
If you live life right, though, it shouldn’t make you sad.
Living life right, in this context, is slowing down to truly experience each moment.
When I was in my backyard, I was present in each moment, undistracted. I lived each experience, and that’s probably why I still remember snippets of those moments.
As I grew into adulthood and life responsibilities became real, I stopped experiencing many moments. If you’re doing something, even something you enjoy, and thinking about five other things, you aren’t present. You might be there in the flesh and going through the motions, but your mind and heart are not there.
I’ve been trying to work on being present more often, though I admit it takes a lot of effort.
I try to always remember that whatever I’m doing could be the last time. Do I want to be present the last time I do something I enjoy?
If I’m not conscious about being present, I’m often not. I have to remind myself to slow down and focus all my attention on what I’m doing.
When my son was laying on me and I slowed down and became present, I noticed the way he would sneak a glance over to my face a few times to smile, though I think he was making sure I was still awake. If I wasn’t present, I would have missed that detail. Lack of presence means the loss of many details.
My mantra I find myself repeating in my head when I’m engaged in something I enjoy is:
- Slow Down
- Anything else can wait
When I follow my own advice, I’m able to experience a moment. When I don’t, I miss the experience.
The next time you’re doing something you enjoy, try to notice how many times your attention turns elsewhere.
It’s probably more than you think.
It reminds me of a portion of the Zen Evening Gatha, which is often chanted by Zen practitioners:
“Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. Each of us should strive to awaken. . . . . . awaken, Take heed. Do not squander your life.”
I don’t want to squander my life or lose opportunities. Do you?
When you live life in this way, you know that you left nothing on the field and that you sucked as much joy and presence out of each moment you could. There will be no what ifs or regrets, which are the true tragedies.
Slow down. Cherish. Anything else can wait. Actualize this during your special experiences because, like me on the wiffleball field in my backyard, one day will be the last time.