Live in the moment! Many, such as fellow Canadian Eckhart Tolle, remind us that our tendency to dwell too much either in the past or the future is to our detriment, depriving us of the one thing in our lives that is real, namely the present.
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.” ― Eckhart Tolle
How easy it is to fall into thoughts of the past, pining for what we remember as the good old days—simpler times when freedom was the norm and when the worries of the day simply did not exist! But then again, memory can be such a great trickster, revealing only the bits that jive with our idealized past and hiding the parts that are inconvenient; not in-keeping with our chosen narrative. The bad parts: all but forgotten, and rightly so, in most respects. After all, what’s to be gained from dwelling on suffering and loss? Why nurse old grudges? Those sentiments affect nobody except you, and not in a good way.
But you cannot move ahead when you refuse to take your eyes off the rear-view mirror.
So, too, with the future; what a blinded existence some live, focused only on what’s to come! The career comes first. Never mind those they exploit along the way; merely obstacles or means to an end. Got to get to the top: wear the right clothes, say the right things, associate only with those who will boost them along that trajectory.
But… the destination always changes; one horizon melts to the next, and then the next… All the while they miss the ride entirely—until fate eventually intervenes and it all comes to an abrupt end leaving so many marooned, no friends and devoid of life’s meaning.
So much for the past and the present exclusively! What of “living in present?” No reflection on previous encounters, on lessons learned—sometimes through bitter experience? And just the future—no overall plan; no sense of direction? What an utterly aimless, self-serving but ultimately useless existence!
But perhaps that’s not exactly what people should mean when they exhort the “living in the present” mantra, is it? Maybe, instead, it’s the sense that what we are is the product of both the past and the future and that no matter where we find ourselves, yes, we need to be THERE but aware of the context that surrounds us; the choices we have made, and most importantly respectful of those with whom we share this place and time.
It seems my life has a sound track. I wake most mornings with a song in my mind and, even in the quietest of moments there’s always something. Maybe just a melody, the words barely coherent but always a stirring, evocative of over-riding thoughts or of generalized feelings that serve as a backdrop for experience. Sometimes it’s a tune that’s being played by those around me, captured, perhaps, by some immediate hook to my present state of mind. Sometimes it’s an annoying ear-worm; a piece I utterly detest; one that serves as an omnipresent annoyance—itself an appropriate accompaniment to a generally unpleasant period of time.
Frequently, though, it’s one that has crossed the barrier from merely being liked to being a part of the mosaic that is my own existence; something that transcends “music” to being whatever is the musical equivalent of “literature.”
This time around it was “The Boxer” and not just any version but the one done live by Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park way back I 1981. It’s flawed. Art miscues on the second line of the lyric; starts early…stops. Paul looks over and the two exchanges that gentle smiling glance that only comes from those used to working together; used to forgiveness for imperfection, “It’s okay, we’ll continue on…” So appropriate, so like real life. It also contains the “missing” verse; the one written originally but not included, for whatever reason, on the original studio recording. I don’t know why. I love the whole verse; year after year it becomes more and more a part of my whole being.
Now the years are rolling by me They are rockin' evenly I am older than I once was And younger than I'll be; that's not unusual. Nor is it strange After changes upon changes We are more or less the same After changes we are more or less the same --Paul Simon, The Boxer
The Zoo; I always heard it referred to as “Thee Azoo” since that’s the way it was pronounced by my Irish family. No visit to Ireland was ever complete without a visit and this one would be no different. We got there on the second-last day of our trip this past summer. Rain was forecast for the whole day so we brought raincoats and umbrellas—my second one for the trip since I’d absent-mindedly left mine in a taxi in Cork.
We took the LUAS to O’Connel Street and from there got on the Bus to Phoenix Park. It stopped just outside the big white gates and we went in. Part of me was a kid again, only a part.
As a child the sight of the exotic animals was a never-ending source of delight. Excitedly I would go from section to section chattering away. My poor mother and Aunt Annie—what they must have had to put up with! Even my Grando would chuckle, “Will he ever shut up!”
“Shutt tup! Shutt tup!” my big sister would tease, always good-heartedly, though.
The pony rides were the best of all.
But now as an adult there is always that sense of guilt that follows from seeing the bigger picture. The Phoenix Park, in which the zoo is located, got its start as a hunting park, a place for killing animals, at the pleasure of the king. What’s more it’s likely that the original impetus to create the zoo came from physicians, not so much as eager to study the exotic fauna in situ as they were to examine the cadavers, legally obtained once they’d expired—again a place where death, not life, may have been the primary focus. Besides, they’re all still penned up—a small irony perhaps in a place so aware of the brutal fact that for much of its history, as far as humans were concerned, “Only Our Rivers Run Free.”
But then… The zoo today focuses its efforts on education and on conservation, especially towards the protection of endangered species. The habitats are spacious and well maintained and everywhere there’s evidence that the creatures that dwell there are well cared for.
So good on paper; So romantic; But so bewildering --Carly Simon
As we wandered through the gardens, spending a pleasant three or four hours amid the company of others, the overall air was one of peace and joy. The children reminded me of how I, too, felt so many years ago on the many occasions we visited the place. The staff—all of them—carried themselves with that mixed air of professionalism and contentment one generally encounters at places where what happens there could be best described as “Good Work.”
Still… All the while I wandered through the beautiful setting, I was reminded of the many times in which we, as a people, have found ways to defend our exploitation of others as “stewardship.” Back at home, for example, we constantly hear of calls to “remove the threat of moose-vehicle accidents” a euphemism which, for many, involves completely eliminating the local population. Kill them all; our safety is what matters most. I cringe at the thought, unable to see the justice. From whence comes the right to drive a population to extinction? Not a universal sentiment; acknowledged. There are many whose livelihoods depend upon safe passage on our highways; many more who have suffered grievous loss as the toll of highway deaths continues to mount. Is that a just solution, though? Again, I digress…
I did not chatter this time. Yes, I still have my moments—ask my colleagues—but these days I’m more prone to introspection at times like these. We three did wander through the whole place and finally found ourselves back at the entrance just as the rain began to fall in earnest. We went in to the gift store, as much to duck a heavy shower as to get some little token of our visit. Lesley picked out a stuffed zebra and we named it Azoo (you figure out where the name came from—there’s a hint in the text, midway through the post). Umbrellas up, we made our way through the rain back to the bus stop.
The remainder of the day was spent back at O’Connell street for a few last-minute souvenirs and a quick stop off for one more round at the pub, then, finally back on the LUAS for the night.
All in all a pleasant way to finish off a long-anticipated return. We came around once more and likely will again.
The next day we had an early return. Home.
And still the soundtrack; for the past few days I’ve been awakened to Carly Simon’s voice. I know what you’re thinking, “You’re so Vain,” Right? Very Funny. No, this time its “Coming Around Again.” I bought the album—yes vinyl—way back in ’87 and, like the Boxer’s missing verse the sentiment seems to become increasingly cemented into what I am.
I know nothing stays the same But if you're willing to play the game It's coming around again --Carly Simon “Coming Around Again”
The visit to “Thee Azoo” was just another reflection of that, or perhaps just the retelling. Who cares; on with the dance.