It is a bright, crisp morning. The air is cool and damp. The sun has crept overhead, pouring milky gold light from the sky. With a warm thermos of coffee in hand and the quiet chirp of radio chatter playing in the background, I pull my car onto the stretch of road, heading toward work.
I live in the type of town that feels like a place for passing through—a dot that fades into the stretch of land somewhere between Los Angeles and San Diego. I drive past my old elementary school and a small lake once filled with years of collected rain as I watch the sun intersect the misty morning air and slowly swallow streams of my hot coffee. I pull onto the freeway and pick up speed.
Every so often, I check my rearview mirror. I’m a vigilant driver who attempts to be on defense more than I am on offense—checking over my shoulder, making careful lane switches and trying to follow the rules of the road as reasonably as possible. But there’s something particularly alluring to me about my rearview mirror. I find myself checking it constantly, every few seconds at times.
Am I driving too slow for the people in the car behind me? Are my braking skills annoying them? Should I get out of the fast lane and into the right lane where nobody will be driving close behind me? Will this truck be bothered if I get over in front of them? Do I look like an elegant driver or a novice?
This is the soundtrack in my head as I drive down the freeway, the lane unfurling before me like a long, matte black ribbon.
On one of my more recent commutes, I reflected on this habit of mine, this constant urge to check my rearview mirror, this need to gauge my driving in light of what lies behind me. The parallel hit me: I spend just as much time looking in the rearview mirror of my life as I do checking the rearview mirror of my car.
I spend just as much time looking in the rearview mirror of my life as I do checking the rearview mirror of my car.
In my car, I fixate on what’s behind me, glancing at fellow travelers barreling down stretches of road that I’ve already traversed. In life, I fixate on that which is behind me—past shortcomings, personal failures, mishaps, mistakes, regrets, disappointment with myself and critiques of my journey thus far.
In life, “the rearview mirror” consists of those yardstick words that make us feel small like: I should be further along in life by now. I will never be able to rise from this mistake. I should have never tried majoring in [fill in the blank]. I’m such a failure. I’ve wasted so much time. My past is too shameful. I’ll never change. I can never overcome the hurt their words and opinions caused me. My life is ruined. I’ll never achieve the life I want.
Oh, how these words blind us to the beauty of the present moment.
When I am glancing in the rearview mirror of my life, I am dwelling on the dry, brittle and stagnant parts of my world—aspects that have happened, that once existed and that I cannot change. When I remove my gaze from the rearview mirror and fix my eyes on the present, I am dwelling on the nourished, fertile land of today, the fully alive “now” teeming with hope and potential.
When I am glancing in the rearview mirror of my life, I am dwelling on the stagnant parts of my world—aspects that have happened, that once existed and that I cannot change.
Now, I’ve made it my goal while driving to spend more time basking in what lies before me. I’ve soaked in the ocean of sky—its pale blue reminding me of the backdrop of an al fresco painting. I’ve let roadside mountains swallow me whole, engulfing me in their height and grandeur. I’ve let early evening sunsets wash over my eyes like sheets of orange paint. I’ve allowed what lies before me to take up more space in the gallery of my mind than the things that lie behind me.
This is how I’d like to live my life: feasting on the beauty of the present moment and all that it has to offer. Rather than finding fault in myself and drowning in the regret of past shortcomings, I’d like to celebrate my ocean skies—the moments of abundance like when my family shares a delicious meal together; my roadside mountains—the moments of triumph, of victories both big and small and of growth; my evening sunsets—warm naps on Sundays, laughter that overflows and chapters of life that end in order to make room for new ones.
This is how I’d like to live my life: feasting on the beauty of the present moment and all that it has to offer.
Living in the present is a daily choice. It is choosing to peel our eyes off of that pesky rearview mirror. It is choosing to find beauty in the current moment, regardless of what the past may or may not have looked like. It is choosing to face our journey head on, hopeful about the future and firmly planted in the now.
Do you ever struggle with keeping your mind on the present moment? Why is the rearview mirror smaller than the windshield?
Image via Frank Terry