The first time I traveled alone in a foreign country, I was twenty-three. I’d decided to backpack through Italy — armed with a too-heavy backpack and too many pairs of shoes. One night, I hand-washed a pair of my underwear in the shower of my hostel in Rome, and hung them to dry on the post of my bunk bed overnight — and then forgot them, in all their polka-dotted glory, for the next poor backpacker to find when I checked out the next day.
I take a weird delight in knowing how awkward that probably was for the next backpacker who slept in my bunk. I hope they came up with a good story about the origin of those panties.
[Twenty-three year old me. I loved that coat.]
My clearest memory of that, though, is the memory that leans its elbow on my shoulder like a comfortable old friend….
I’d spent the day on foot, wandering around the wonderland where the Colosseum sits, as well as the Palatino and, of course, the Roman Forum. I traipsed around old cobble stone streets and the letters “S.P.Q.R” pressed into iron manholes. I ran my hands along centuries-old marble and stood quietly alone in corners of ruins for long periods of time, trying to imagine what conversations took place in those corners, who swept the cobwebs, who stole a kiss. I asked whatever gods there be to imprint me with whatever was left behind, whatever could be spared.
From a certain still-standing balcony in the Palatino, you can hobble your way down crumbling steps into the Roman Forum. Even in winter, the orange and pomegranate trees on either side of the stairwell smell like fruit on the verge of being juice in a glass in your hand over breakfast.
There is no way to describe the inescapable sense of your own mortality in a place like the Roman Forum. Standing in what remains of the Basilica Nova — where three massive coffered vaults stand split down the middle — is like standing in the palm of God, where you could be born or die in the same moment, or maybe both, and there’s a moment where you have to blink and make eye contact with an old woman in a red sweater just to make sure you’re still in a place that has a time zone.
The sun was setting, the Forum was preparing to close down. My dinky European cell phone was dead and so was my camera, but I spotted a long ramp up to a vista point at the east end of the Forum, and started trekking. Herds of people were coming down, but I was going up. I was nervous as hell working my way against the crowd — I had no idea where I was going or what I’d do when I got to the top, except likely come back down. After that I didn’t know. I wasn’t even sure which direction was Out, or where in tarnation Out would lead me, if I ever found the portal back into the world that held the Metro or a cab.
I arrived not as the golden light of the setting sun was casting warm shadows on everything, no. But in the pale blue shadow of a sun already gone, and the chill of a metal rail in my hands as people gave me sideways glances, and I shivered against the cold, willing myself to hold still and understand what I was doing standing in this spot God had circled for me at that particular moment in time.
I gazed out over the emptying Roman Forum. I didn’t cry or have some sort of Eat Pray Love moment. I honestly don’t even remember what the view was like. But I remember the feeling as I said these things out loud to myself:
You are here.
All this held in a mind-bending knowing:
This is the best moment of my life.
So is this one.
And this one.
Time is strung together with Nows, and this — the Holy Now — is the one in which you are aware of the never-ending Presence that is You.
Maybe you’ll stop reading right here, or roll your eyes. A previous iteration of me would have — I get it. Maybe your kid is screaming and you’ve got shit smeared on your cheek. Or maybe you’re in a doctor’s office, waiting your turn. Or in line at Target.
But wherever you are, look around. There is right now, and a moment later (and even in Now) we are tend to be aware of the Next Thing.
No matter where you are, what you’re doing or what incredible thing you’ve created, it is held in time, and time is the most malleable construct we experience.
But You have persisted beyond those lines on that one page in that particular story of your life. You were a still, expansive and self-aware Presence way before The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You (or the worst), and you — real, true You — will be there after.
And this — this glorious thing you’re holding in your hands called righthererightnow — is it.
Trust me that I know this might seem bleak. But only a temporary, less real “you” could be scared that Right Now is it, because that temporary you is aware that Right Now fades, and becomes What Was.
The eternal You, however, is smiling.
She is experiencing the truth of herself.
He is delighted in the limitless of his essence.
Ask yourself this question — and ask it in your heart: in the still, quiet place you return to as an anchor, or feel at the edge of the sea, or in the middle of a sleepless night, or gazing into the timeless eyes of your lover:
“What does it feel like to be me?”
Not the story of you. Not what happened.
Listen to the silence that answers; to the sweet taste of yourself, beneath layers of time and recorded history.
You persist as the imperturbable Presence that has always been… You. There is nothing to do but delight in your Self, and give the gift of yourself in the most honest way you can.
Which is very often to just show up.