Pretend this is the last day.
The last day of what, you ask? Certainly nothing out of the ordinary seems to be going on. Life has been the same, and will be the same, for quite a while. Two years remain in college for me, but your circumstances might be slightly different. Perhaps you’ve been at the same job for a couple decades now, with no retirement in sight. Maybe you’re somewhere in your junior year of high school, and you can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to leave your hometown. Or maybe you’ve been on the road for some time, trying to find out what to do next.
Chances are you’re somewhere in the middle. The beginnings of life stages only last a few weeks at maximum, and sometimes the ends can feel like just a matter of seconds. Everything else, the months and the years in between, are the middle.
The middle can often feel like a blur. You seem to be doing the same things every day, perhaps with a little bit of variation. Not like that’s a bad thing. We often fall into routines because we realize they are the most comfortable way to spend time in the middle. But the middle often leaves much to be desired, especially in the quiet moments. Oftentimes you will find yourself alone with nothing but your thoughts to pass the time, and only then do you really begin to think about things.
Things like what you used to do ten years ago, when you were still just learning about the world. Things like people that you were once close with. Things like regrets, and the ways that everything could be different had you just made another decision early on. Things like vivid memories of the coincidences that led you to your current timeline. Things like your hopes for the future, the infinite possibilities that you can only dream of.
After all, you’re stuck here in the present. You live this part already, day in and day out. There doesn’t seem to be much point in reminiscing over what already is your every waking moment. It seems much more natural to think about what was, as the past is far beyond the reaches of your current consciousness at this point. You can remember it, sure, but you can no longer remember what it was like to be yourself, living out those past moments. You’re someone new now, with new experiences and decisions that shaped your current self, just as you will continue to evolve as you march forward into the future. Certainly the present doesn’t get as much appreciation from our overthinking brains as the other parts of our timelines do. It’s just that the present doesn’t feel very different or intriguing compared to what has been, or what will be. Even tomorrow just feels like something that won’t be incredibly interesting.
So just for now, pretend it’s the last day. I’m sure you know what it feels like. Maybe you stayed up all night with your friends before you moved out of your college town for the last time. Maybe you spent hours in wistful thought as you packed up to relocate to a new, faraway city. The point is, we know when the end is approaching. If it’s not the night before, it’s the weeks leading up to it. There’s just some point when you realize that the arbitrary date that marks the end of your current life stage is not far off at all, but rather rapidly approaching. If you can catch it early on, good. But more often than not, it’s only a couple of months at best. A couple of months that feel like just a few minutes. And for that short period of time, all you can think about is the present. You think fondly upon events that just happened the other day, as if they were suddenly some distant memory. You come to terms with things that you won’t have time to do before you leave. You realize what you’ll miss the most.
Oftentimes, it’s too late. Every time, you will feel as if you didn’t make the most of it. Even if you did, you just won’t be convinced of it. There must have been more I could have appreciated, you think, if only I’d realized how soon I was leaving. This, of course, is an illusion. There are reasons for how you spent the time the way you did. There will always be ways that you potentially could’ve improved upon, but the fact of the matter is that you lived it out. You can’t change what has already happened, for better or for worse. It is what it is, but that doesn’t seem to help alleviate the mounting regrets and nostalgia that pile up as you approach your departure.
Your friend is driving you to the airport tomorrow, 11:30 in the morning. Your bags are packed in the living room, the keys are on the dining table, and everything is clean. You won’t have time to say more than a couple goodbyes before time begins to run short. You don’t want to miss your flight, after all. You know that once you get on that plane, you are no longer in the middle. You’ve begun a new phase, and the previous one, which you were just occupying a few hours ago, has simply vanished into thin air, only leaving a rose-tinted set of memories in your head.
What are you thinking of? Who do you absolutely have to bid farewell to tomorrow? What are the things you wish you could do one last time, although knowing full well that you don’t have the time to do them all before today ends? Who do you regret not spending more time with? What could you have done better? What do you wish you hadn’t wasted so many hours on?
How could you have made the most of it, before it was over?
Maybe you couldn’t find the answers to all of those questions. That’s okay. You’re not actually leaving tomorrow, after all. But it’s always a good idea to think about now for a change, as opposed to the past or the future. The day will eventually come when you’ll have to leave everything behind for real, and you don’t want to answer these questions when it’s already too late.
I hope you appreciate the parts of the middle you are living in right now: not because they are more interesting or different from what you’re used to, but because they, just like everything else, will be gone someday. You’ll be thinking about how you used to do this or that and go here or there all the time back in the day, but you won’t be able to appreciate those moments ever again.
And maybe your next ending isn’t coming up at all. Maybe you’ve still got years and years of this to go, and creating fake scenarios to identify what you should prioritize and be grateful for are the least of your worries. That’s possible too, I guess.
Just don’t let it sneak up on you.