Today by Frederick Buechner
It is a moment of light surrounded on all sides by darkness and oblivion. In the entire history of the universe, let alone in your own history, there has never been another just like it and there will never be another just like it again. It is the point to which all your yesterdays have been leading since the hour of your birth. It is the point from which all your tomorrows will proceed until the hour of your death. If you were aware of how precious it is, you could hardly live through it. Unless you are aware of how precious it is, you can hardly be said to be living at all.
“This is the day which the Lord has made,” says Psalm 118. “Let us rejoice and be glad in it” (v. 24). Or weep and be sad in it for that matter. The point is to see it for what it is, because it will be gone before you know it. If you waste it, it is your life that you’re wasting. If you look the other way, it may be the moment you’ve been waiting for always that you’re missing.
All other days have either disappeared into darkness and oblivion or not yet emerged from it. Today is the only day there is.
~Frederick Buechner, originally published in Whistling in the Dark and later in Beyond Words
Last year, I took part in an online course on creating good habits. One of the habits suggested was saying the mantra, “Today’s going to be a great day” each morning when you get out of bed and your feet hit the floor. I wasn’t sure why, but I just couldn’t get on board with the idea. After all, it might be a terrible day.
But what was important about the mantra is the same thing that gratitude journals are really getting at: perspective. How can we enter each day with the perspective of Didion’s flower in a glass on the stair landing? Or with the keen eye of love that Rabbi Wolpe talks about? Or acknowledging what MacDonald deems “all delight that the world holds” and being content with, or without them?
It took some time to arrive, but my own mantra when I pull back the covers begrudgingly on cold winter mornings, when I remember it, has become four simple words: “Today is a gift.”
When you write something like that, people often think you are better than you really are. My writing persona is the best, most real version of myself that I would be, if able, but the truth is, I struggle most mornings to get out of bed. Sometimes I am living in the “too aware” group that Buechner mentions and I am paralyzed. Other days, I can, as he writes, “hardly be said to be living at all.” “Today is a gift,” I wrote. I believe it deeply, particularly in the context of loss, knowing each day I have here is one that my husband did not. It’s a very true statement, but I do not “feel” it every day.
As a writer, I believe in the philosophy Dorothy Sayers laid out in her book, “The Mind of the Maker.” I believe that creation is a triune act including ideas, incarnation, and the power felt by the reader or viewer of that creation. I aim to get my work published with this idea in mind, the thought that my words are not emanating power unless they are actually read by an audience. But primarily, I write because I have to. My inner life respirates words, and they’re just the only way I am able to sift through day-to-day occurrences and keep moving forward. “We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand,” said Lewis. “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader,” said Frost. I usually begin my writing with a question, not an answer. The process of writing rewards me with the surprise that Frost talks of. The sum is more than its parts.
Today though, I am thinking about the power, not only in what I discover when I process through words, or the power of words read by an audience, but by those same words reflected by the audience back to the writer—the circle of words. I’ve been getting that “Today is a gift,” thrown back at me a few times since I wrote it, and it’s been eye-opening.
The very Friday after Thanksgiving was difficult. I felt tired of being an only parent and trying to think of a “fun family activity” on days off from school. I felt exhausted from making decisions and making things happen. We decided to go iceskating, and I didn’t feel like doing that either. I wanted to stay home and read under a blanket, but I begrudgingly laced up skates and skated for two hours with my daughter. That’s when it happened. A text from a friend I rarely get texts from:
“Julia, I have been thinking all day how today is a gift, and it just reduces me to good surrender tears. Thank you for that essay. I know it was- and is- so hard-won understanding.”
My own words were making someone else tear up as I trudged through my day, eager for it to come to an end. I had to shake my head. And yet, it didn’t surprise me.
I was telling Audrey recently about the five love languages and how being aware of yours or those you’re in relationship with can be helpful. We talked about how, for me, because words are the way I process, getting a note, or a letter of affirmation, is my primary language. I will find a quiet spot to sit and savor the words written in a letter; I will read them multiple times; I will save them. That is partly why I invented the word, “wordkeeping” and subtitled my first blog, “A Space for Wordkeeping.” My friend’s text also has been reread. “Today is a gift.” How could I forget the day after Thanksgiving, the day after publishing an essay that concluded with those words as my daily mantra?
Well, sometimes forgetting and needing a reminder are two very different things.
And apparently, I needed another one.
Today I was feeling lackluster. I had a very difficult time getting Audrey to sleep last night, and she also sleep walks/talks multiple times a night. I was up later than usual trying to prepare our Advent calendar, wrapping tiny gifts, looking at the calendar and figuring out the notes that also go in there telling us what Christmas activities to do on what days. We walked the few blocks up to school. It’s a beautiful day today, lots of late fall sun and blue skies, but I was thinking about coming home to my messy house and trying to create some semblance of order. As I turned back to walk home, I talked with a new mom-friend who recently moved to our town. I told her how I had no energy this time of year, and that I’m thinking of buying a sun lamp to sit under. Then she handed me an unassuming white paper bag rolled around something. “Here, it’s just a little something. It’s nothing,” she said as I thanked her. “Open it at home.”
When I got home I sat at the kitchen island and opened it slowly. I could tell from the lovely packaging—black tissue and black cards with rose gold embossing- that it was something from the jewelry she designs. She is a fashion designer originally from London who designs jewelry from home now—lovely, delicate pieces in gold or silver that I’ve admired on her.
Late last night she had read my essay. And can you guess what was on the bracelet she so thoughtfully made me? Yes, the circle of words. I will wear it today. I will try not to forget. I will try to keep truths and feelings in their proper places. And when I don’t, I’ll try to withhold judgement and offer myself grace instead. I’ll try to remember that grace and gratitude come from the same root word: in Latin, “a given gift.” Being able to feel gratitude, even on the hard days, isn’t just something we strive for. It’s not just the result of self-discipline or awareness. Experiencing gratitude, that too, is a gift.
If you’d like your own bracelet with this saying or any other, please check out my lovely friend Geeta’s Etsy shop and instagram! This photo doesn’t do the piece justice! It is so delicate and special.