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Jewish World Review June 10, 2003 / 10 Sivan 5763

Bill Tammeus

Bill Tammeus
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Learn how to anticipate while remembering to savor today | DENVER Now that I'm here, I recognize how much I've looked forward to this trip.

And I see again how the mere act of anticipation energizes our lives in healthy ways - as long as it doesn't overwhelm the present so that we miss whatever is going on now.

I'm here to get a writing award, which is a lovely and humbling thing. To receive it, however, I must give a luncheon speech about writing and about how it has shaped my life. My audience will be mostly other writers, which makes my task more formidable.

Still, I've looked forward to this for months with a mixture of pride, humility and angst, and the mere looking forward has given a certain electricity to my life that would not have been there otherwise.

I've also looked forward to this trip for the chance it is affording my wife and me to spend time with one of her sons and his fiancee, who live here now. And for the opportunity to spend time with friends and with my cousin and his wife, who also live here.

So simply anticipating things can give life zest and meaning. As author George Steiner once noted in a Harper's magazine article, humanity seems to be the only species that thinks in the future tense:

"It is only man, so far as we can conceive, who has the means of altering his world by resort to 'if' clauses ... "

Even now, for instance, I'm looking forward to my granddaughter's first birthday party next week. And to a trip I must take to Tucson soon after that for a conference. And to a family reunion in July in North Carolina. And to spending a week in northern New Mexico after that. And to being in Vermont and on Cape Cod for a few days in August.

Preparing for what's to come not only adds meaning and significance to our time, it also makes us more ready and able to enjoy whatever we're preparing for. And having something to look forward to is essential if (that word again) we are to avoid drowning in a tedious run of sameness.

The difficulty is making sure not only that we have a future that seems alluring to us but also being careful not to ignore the present while anticipating what's ahead.

In some religions -- or, anyway, in branches of them -- people sometimes get so fixated on an afterlife that they miss the beauty and opportunities of the life they already have. Their eyes, staring at heaven, miss seeing the divine gifts all around them.

When I was a boy, a classmate once shared some chocolate with me, explaining that whatever he gave away on Earth he'd get back double in heaven.

This poverty-stricken theology not only deprived him of the genuine satisfaction possible from true giving, it also fixed his eyes on a distant prize instead of on the joy he could produce in others through his generosity. He dismissed my thanks as inconsequential because he was attentive not to me but to the double-indemnity returns he expected to reap once he passed beyond the Pearly Gates.

And yet there is a way in which a redeemed future constructively animates and motivates many people who hold deep religious beliefs. Unless they balance that with attention to the present and a respect for what the past can teach, however, they are likely to have a distorted view of life.

To maintain that crucial balance, all of us need spiritual bifocals that will let us see both the present and the future with all possible clarity and will help us pay proper attention to both.

My eyeglass prescription has included bifocals for several years. Good thing, too. My eyes, which suffer from severe nearsightedness, now can generally see both the small print and the big picture through my glasses.

That's the balance we need in all aspects of life - even in public policy, which sometimes sacrifices the future for an enhanced present. This flawed approach is evident especially -- but not exclusively -- in tax and energy policy.

If this trip to Denver were the last thing on my 2003 agenda, the rest of the year might lose its edgy attraction to me. But now that I'm here, I won't think about all that. My task is to marinate in the gift of today.

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JWR contributor Bill Tammeus' latest book is "A Gift of Meaning." To order it, please click on title. To comment on his column, please click here.

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Reprinted by permission, The Kansas City Star, Copyright 2002. All rights reserved