“If they’re put in jail, they die,” Robert Redford said to Meryl Streep in one of my absolute favorite movies of all time, Out of Africa. He is speaking about the Masai tribe.
“Why?” she asks.
“Because they live in the moment. They don’t know that they will eventually get out and so they die because they think this is all there is,” he replies.
I’ve never heard a truer way of explaining living in the now. We say it all the time, talk about being present, say things like “the past is gone” and “the future doesn’t exist,” but we don’t truly get it. And that statement makes it real.
This film, Out of Africa, stands the test of longevity, not appearing dated or trite. It is so beautiful, mellifluous, and dreamy. The other night, Dan and I watched part of it and this scene which I’ve seen so many times struck me as I were seeing it for the very first time.
Put in jail, they die. They can’t imagine they will ever get out.
What a way to think of being present. Right now. This is absolutely it. Nothing more, nothing less, no tomorrow, no yesterday to revel in.
You know, as I think about it, I realize how much of my day – every single day – is filled with other than the now.
In meetings with clients, we reflect on the past (outcomes, successes) and plan for the future (to-do lists, next steps, the next campaign).
With the children, we gather around the dinner table to enjoy the food made by the work of our hands and I ask the children what was good about their day. The past.
We talk about what’s to come – homework, sports, this weekend, plans with friends, Asher’s bar mitzvah next month. The future.
The minutes fill up like little jars of rain water with the already-done and the yet-to-do. A client called this morning about a future speaking engagement. Future. Another client called to see if I’ll be at a program tomorrow. Future. At a meeting with an organization I may begin working with, they mentioned a campaign I’d done for them two years back. Past.
What is right NOW? Really? I’m starting to wonder.
Do we ever really master the being present? Even the story I’m telling you right now causes us to reflect and to conjecture. We’re doing it right now.
This morning, I arose at a quarter to six and climbed into my workout clothes. In the living room, I did exercises to build my core, then I meditated in my little peaceful corner with a single candle lit and flickering. The sun was rising slowly outside my house.
After, I woke my husband and asked him to wake the kids while I went for a run.
Even though now I am recounting the past, at the time it was very much the now, and I loved it.
I am trying to like running. I went on Sunday and so this morning, when I started, I didn’t hate it. The first minute was actually…enjoyable. Exhilarating, even. A sliver of moon dangled silver beside the sunrise, and the rest of the sky filled with pink and purple clouds like balls of yarn.
I loved every moment my feet hit the pavement and the sky changed from second to second. I felt my skin tingle in the early cold, and then resolve to warm up from my exertion. I loved the moments. I felt … alive.
And, at the time, I noticed it enough to revel in it right then – not looking back, not looking ahead. It may be the only example throughout my day of truly being present.
Put in jail, they die. Whether it’s true or not, the beauty of the storytelling certainly made me stop and think.