What is it that makes the present, especially the nicer moments of the present, so difficult to experience properly? And why, conversely, can so many events feel easier to enjoy, appreciate and perceive, when they are firmly over?
One benefit of the past is that it is a dramatically foreshortened edited version of the present.
Even the best days of our lives contain a range of dull and uncomfortable moments. But in memory, we lock on to the most consequential moments; and therefore construct sequences that feel a great deal more meaningful and interesting than the settings that generated them.
Much of what ruins the present is sheer anxiety.
Anything could theoretically happen, an earthquake, an aneurysm, a rejection – which gives rise to the non-specific anxiety that trails most of us around all the time; the simple dread at the unknownness of what is to come.
But then, of course, only a very limited range of awful things do ever come to pass and we forget the anxiety at once (or rather shift it to the new present).
Our bodies further contribute to our distraction from the present. They have their own moods and itineraries. But these dissonant moods also get edited out of memory.
Our minds are cavernous, chaotic places. So much courses through them that has little to do with what is right in front of our eyes. We end up seeming ungrateful to where are.
We need to be prepared for the weird way in which we align with the world and not berate ourselves unduly for our difficulties at doing justice to where our bodies and minds happen to be.
We should be ready for this disloyalty in other people too. Like us, they’ll probably enjoy the encounter with us so much more when the present has safely given way to memory.