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Today, here, now

The provocation of a well-known Spanish journalist. She sees the crowds return to the streets at night, the burning desire to possess life. But how many go to bed happy? Why do we not learn from what happens? (from El País, May 23 2021).
Rosa Montero

As I live in a central district of Madrid, I was able to witness, from my home, the celebrations for the country’s exit from the state of emergency – the roar of the wave of crowds that poured through the streets and their insatiable hunger for happiness. So much desire to set the night on fire, to possess life. It was a little scary to see how we have again forgotten about the virus, but the subject of this article is not this irresponsible forgetfulness. Because, on the other hand, the explosion of joy is very understandable.

I wonder, though, how many people went to bed happy that morning at dawn, alone or in company of someone else. How many were disappointed, hostages to their own expectations? How many have fallen back into the human dissatisfaction we all know so well and into that annoying inability to experience the certain, tangible, simple reality? The great Voltaire used to say: "We all look for happiness, but without knowing where to find it: like drunkards who look for their house, knowing dimly that they have one", and it is true: we flounder. The pandemic should have taught us something about the vibrant and unique truth of the present, of this very moment in which we live, but I fear we will learn nothing. I have seen this many times before, for example in friends who are diagnosed with cancer and who, in the overwhelming perception of fear, assure us that the disease has opened their eyes and that, if they overcome it, they will never again waste their time worrying about nonsense or stop appreciating the true values of life. Friends who then recover (thank goodness) and a few years later relapse into the same mental outrage, the same confusion about what they are and what they want.

And the same thing happens to me. Sometimes I despair at how little we learn, how much effort it is to introduce a crumb of knowledge into our heads and how easily we can lose it. You see, I know the theory. Even worse: I have been writing on this subject for years, giving learned advice on the need to learn to live in the present (because there is nothing else, because this is what life is), but it is advice that I do not really know how to follow. And there is an abysmal difference between what you think and whether you assume that thought into your body. It is difficult to live according to what you believe. So now I am here, like almost everyone else, unconsciously postponing happiness to a time that is always a little further away. I will be happy when that public event happens that I do not want to attend and that makes me so uncomfortable, I tell myself, for example, without thinking about it at all, just in a corner of my brain. But then the event comes and you survive and it passes, and behold, other personal or work commitments have appeared on the horizon that cause you anxiety and uncertainty. They return to placing your goal for happiness in a future that you will never reach, because there will always be a share of anxiety and uncertainty in life, and you have to know how to navigate it by taking it into account. Of course, it is also good to learn to say no to commitments that you do not like, but that is another story.

I will be happy when I have a partner; I will be happy when I can have more independence from my partner; I will be happy when I have children, I will be happy when my children grow up and I get my life back; I will be happy when I have a job, I will be happy when I have less work. Come what may, we always manage to ruin our reality. To shrink it, to make it dirty, to fill it with screeching squeaks. With holes. Happiness is a mechanical hare that makes us chase after it with our tongues hanging out, and the stupid thing is that we are the ones who give in to it.

"Let us live this life as if we had another in our suitcase," said Hemingway, a man I detest by the way. But he was absolutely right: we waste our days stupidly, postponing the full consciousness of living until another moment, as if the present were just a way station, a boring stage on our rough journey to I do not know where. It is as if we are perpetually on the conveyor belt of an airport, passengers in eternal movement towards nowhere. I will be happy when I reach my destination. Well, the bad news is that you never arrive. There is only today, the here and now.

© Rosa Montero/Ediciones EL PAÍS, S.L 2021