Much of our lives is spent in the land of almost.
We are almost done, almost ready, almost grown up.
We observe the stages of our children’s lives and opine that they are almost walking, almost talking, almost in college, almost ready for the world.
When we are trapped in the moments of almost, we are missing out on what’s right in front of us.
Almost is the intersection of having and not having, being and not
being, thrill and dread, fear and relief, agony and ecstasy.
In her sermon several weeks ago on Rosh Hashana, (the Jewish New Year), our Rabbi told the story of a momentous experience of “almost”, when, after finally becoming a mother at 90, Sarah endures a period of time when she believes her husband is about to sacrifice her only child, Isaac. She suggested that the sounds of the shofar represent the cries of Sarah in the moment when she is made aware that her son Isaac is to be killed. If you have heard the blast of a shofar (a ram’s horn), it is believable that a woman about to lose her only child could make such a harrowing, gut-wrenching sound.
Last week, I experienced a similar moment.
It was early in the morning and I was about to go for my walk. The phone rang and it was my sister telling me that my mother had had a heart attack and was in an ambulance being taken to the hospital. Within minutes my bag was packed and I was on the way to the airport. For six hours I was in that horrifying state between knowing and not knowing, fearing that I was “almost” motherless. Although my wailing was silent, it was as haunting as the shofar. Like Sarah who was spared the grief of losing Isaac when a ram is substituted for the sacrifice, I too was spared the grief of losing my. mother.
But I haven’t been able to shake the psychological impact of having almost lost her.
Almost is powerful and, when we are in control of it, destructive.
Sometimes situations occur and we are thrust into the state of almost, while other times it is our unwillingness to accept and embrace our reality that land us there.
The poet Nikita Gill writes:
“The saddest word in the whole wide world is the word almost. He was almost in love. She was almost good for him. He almost stopped her. She almost waited. He almost lived. They almost made it.”
We are charged with looking honestly at our lives and taking stock of where we find ourselves in relation to almost.
Shel Silverstein’s poem “Almost Perfect” offers a humorous yet brilliant slant on what happens when we live in “almost”.
"Almost perfect... but not quite." Those were the words of Mary Hume at her seventh birthday party, Looking 'round the ribboned room. "This tablecloth is pink not white-- Almost perfect... but not quite."
"Almost perfect... but not quite."
Those were the words of grown-up Mary talking about her handsome beau,
The one she wasn't gonna marry. "Squeezes me a bit too tight--
Almost perfect... but not quite.”
"Almost perfect... but not quite."
Those were the words of ol' Miss Hume teaching in the seventh grade,
Grading papers in the gloom
Late at night up in her room.
"They never cross their t's just right-- Almost perfect... but not quite.”
Do you recognize yourself in the discontent of Mary Hume?
Does her perfectionism feel familiar?
Could you be losing sight of what you have and focused on what you don’t?
Do you choose to almost be happy?
Honestly, I completely get her.
I am one of those people who tends to see what’s missing, what could be improved, what could be better.
I usually blame it on my legal training, having been taught to decipher cases by finding. out what was wrong, since cases are often solved when an "almost" is uncovered. The fascination with finding the clues to a crime or the weakness in the opponent’s. case makes sense in a courtroom but maybe its best to kept it out of our personal lives! Whether we find ourselves in a moment of "almost" unexpectedly or somehow we create the sense of "almost" by being over-demanding or over-critical or perfectionistic, the opportunity is to notice what's going on internally, to do some deep reflection and bring ourselves into the present moment. Therein lies the calm required to live through a challenging time of almost. The present is also where we are able to stop grasping for perfection and get in touch of that gratitude for the wonderful and imperfect lives we have.
I am in training to find what’s right about the case (or my life) and not what's wrong. I am heeding the advice of Epictetus who instructs us to: “Fortify yourself with contentment, for this is an impregnable fortress.”
I don’t need to find the holes in every case any more.
An impregnable fortress of contentment sounds much more satisfying to me now. I am committed to focusing on what is, living in the moment and wrestling with that annoying voice that still urges me to discover what's missing in any situation.
When I find myself worried about what might almost be, I can breathe deeply and calm my nervous system down.
To rest comfortably with whatever is happening, to respond rather to react is where I am headed. And I am ALMOST there.