Hemingway and the Importance of Now

We must make good use of this life for the time that we have left, this brief flash of light, like the sun appearing through the clouds. Kalu Rinpoche

In Hemingway’s classic For Whom the Bell Tolls, American Robert Jordan, joins the rebels to fight the fascists in the Spanish civil war.  He is given the mission to join a small band of guerrilla fighters behind enemy lines and blow up a bridge in advance of a rebel offensive.  With the guerrillas is a girl named Maria, and she and Jordan fall in love.  Jordan knows that his mission is doomed and that he will not make it out alive.  He has much reason to be angry, bitter and to view his fate as tragic.  But he does not take this view.  He is granted two beautiful days of love with Maria, and this gift is the compensation of a lifetime.  From the point of view of Jordan, Hemingway writes:

You have it now and that is all your whole life is; now.  There is nothing else than now.  There is neither yesterday, certainly, nor is there any tomorrow.  How old must you be before you know that?  There is only now, and if now is only two days, then two days is your life and everything in it will be in proportion.  This is how you live a life in two days.  And if you stop complaining and asking for what you will never get, you will have a good life.  A good life is not measured by any biblical span.

 Robert Jordan’s life will be cut short by war, a fate shared by many humans throughout history.  Many of us will die prematurely through disease, violence, or accidents.  We don’t know when the bell will toll for us.  But Robert Jordan would tell us it doesn’t matter, and he is right.  Whether we live to age 20 or 120, our life is but a blip on the screen of time.  This is not intended to be morbid, but to remind us of the value of every moment; to remind us that all we have is the present, and we have a duty to ourselves and to the world to be fully alive.  Jordan lived a full life in two days because he understood the beauty of the moment, the immortality hidden in his mortality.  The love he expressed with Maria is forever.  The sky he gazed upon and the ground on which he slept is forever.  The water he drank from the streams and the mountain air he breathed is forever.  In war, in his anxiety, his fear, his dread, he still found that perfect joy that exists within us and without us.

We can do this also.

There is only now.

Find the joy in your sorrow.  Find the joy in your boredom and in your loneliness.

Take this beautiful, brief gift of life you’ve been given and dance with it.  Love it fully.

There is only now.