Here, But Not

I’m writing Saturday night, as the parsnip-pear soup simmers on the stove for Rosh Hashanah dinner on Sunday. And when this post publishes Tuesday morning, I’ll be getting ready to go to synagogue for the second day of the Jewish New Year.

In our wired world, our words can travel to their appointed destination on schedule, no matter where we happen to be or what we happen to be doing. So even though I’ll refrain from work and not touch my computer for the length of the holiday, it will seem as though I’m online, doing business as usual.

Here, but not. The Internet, email, texting, smart phones—all create the aura of being there, regardless of whether we’re actually present.

The irony, of course, is the more we communicate through the electronic ether, the less we’re present in the world around us. Everywhere I go, I marvel (to put it politely) at how many people are constantly texting or talking on their cells, noses buried in those little screens, never noticing the sidewalk or the sunshine or the car that’s making a left-hand turn in front of them.

And I think about this often, because time takes on a different meaning when you are living with a chronic disease. Minutes, hours, days are more precious. With each passing year, I feel a greater need to experience each day fully and do something meaningful with my writing.

Staying present, really present for the people I love, appreciating whatever each day brings, even the difficult, annoying parts, takes focus and determination. I can multi-task as well as anyone, but I no longer think that’s a great way to work or live. Better to simplify and pay attention to what’s in front of me than to spread myself too thin by trying to do too much, which always leaves me worn out and aggravated and struggling to slow down my brain at night so I can sleep.

Case in point: This past Friday I planned to drive to a supermarket about 20 minutes from home because they have excellent produce and I needed a lot of fruits and vegetables for my holiday menus. I left later in the day than I’d intended, trying to finish one more thing before I quit working, and decided to take a different route that I thought would be faster in mid-afternoon traffic. But, of course, I got lost, had to ask for directions, and spent 45 minutes getting there, instead.

I was totally annoyed with myself. Then I decided to let it go. There was no point getting aggravated because I wasn’t going to get there any sooner. As I drove, just watching the road and surrounding scenery, I got an unexpected insight about work that never would have occurred to me if I had continued multi-tasking and forcing my brain to track too many details, as I had for most of the day.

I spent the next hour at the market, focused on picking the best parsnips and pears and other savory produce, weighing and labeling each bag with its price, and gave myself a pat on the back at the check-out line when I discovered I’d actually stayed within my budget.

Of course, now I’m back to multi-tasking, writing while the soup cools on the stove. But it’s filling the house with wonderful smells, and when I wrap up this post, I’m going to enjoy watching the food processor transform the chunks of cooked fruit and vegetables into a swirling, golden mass. Then I’m going to bake the challah that’s quietly rising. And then I’m going to get some sleep.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at

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