Here and Now



I am dying. Dying of excitement for my book launch, of course, but also in the literal sense. Three years ago, when my thyroid condition — aptly named Graves Disease — was at its most acute, my mortality was a daily reminder since my immune system kept shutting down. Compared to that period, I feel practically invincible these days. I eat a lot more vegetables and I rarely get sick, but it still doesn’t change the fact that I am schlepping toward my demise, albeit slowly, every day. We all are. It’s the one certainty in life: we have an expiration date.

I took the bus to a meeting in downtown Seattle yesterday and observed my fellow passengers. The vast majority sat or stood with head bent, earphones blaring, transported elsewhere via their tiny screens. Except for two people. A lovely young woman wearing a striped shirt plunked herself next to me and pulled out a thick, hardback book from her designer bag. I cast sidelong glances as her aqua-painted nails flipped each page as she read. Flip, pause, pause, flip. She was a fast reader. And directly across from me, a man with an unruly tuft of beard sprouting from his chin (sans mustache) rested an obviously brand new copy of Remains of the Day on his rounded belly. I watched as he sank deeply into the chapter, occasionally turning the pages back to double-check on something. Maybe he’d forgotten a detail? Maybe he was verifying continuity?

At any rate, these two stood out in the sea of digitally-immersed passengers. Books can be distractions too, but I’ve always connected more deeply to myself when I read. Perhaps that’s just me.


I’ve been thinking a lot about presence. The here and now, if you’ll allow me.

M said the other day, “When we have some money saved, we’ll go on a nice vacation.” Something fun to look forward to, to be sure, but then I wondered if that statement is actually saying “We’ll be happier/better when we have some money saved and we can go on a nice vacation.” It’s how most of my thoughts seem to be structured.

“I’ll feel content when I look more fit and this funky cyst on my cheek is gone.”

“I’ll be better when I have a regular income.”

“I’ll be happier when I finally get the house organized.”

I know that I’ve been annoyingly bringing up how I have so many deadlines, and last night I was furiously typing away while half-focused on cooking dinner, trying to meet an upcoming deadline. Then my neighbor texted me, inviting us to have an impromptu picnic dinner out on our shared front yard. “It’s so beautiful,” she declared, “we need to be outside.” The evening was glorious and balmy, borrowing summer weather for a night. I abandoned the laptop and my barely done soup, and she fed us chicken and green beans and crock-pot pinto beans. I contributed roasted potatoes, watermelon cubes and Sardinian crackers from Trader Joe’s. We sat on batik blankets, kids and parents clustered tightly together, chatting easily the way people who have lived in stone’s throw proximity for years can seamlessly discuss memories and future plans. But we were present, in the here and now (or is it “there and then” since I’m referring to the past?).


A diagnosis for a debilitating illness is like a clarion call, a sudden honing of the psyche to bring to fore what really matters. When my endocrinologist told me how serious my condition was, I recalled the astonishing clarity I gained when I first inserted my contacts after squinting at everything for months because I was too embarrassed to wear my clunky glasses in middle school. I felt ridiculous that I’d been walking around blind for so long. Three years ago, I may have looked and felt like a hospice patient, but it forced me to take stock of priorities: Health. People. Truly meaningful activities. Everything else felt inconsequential.

It’s funny how remission and the passage of time will slough off the sharp edges of focus. Nowadays, I’m just as digitally-immersed and paradoxically disconnected as all those people on the bus seemed. I obviously need to learn the same lessons over and over and over.

I don’t know how much time I have left and though I’m certain that I’ve been able to push back my expiration date a good chunk by changing my lifestyle, I’d like to be better at pausing and being nowhere else but here, in that elusive moment. Not my forté, I admit. I’m a natural born planner and a worrier and a get-caught-up-er. But I want to be able to have spur-of-the-moment al fresco dinners, and leisurely read books that connect me to myself, and snuggle with my loves. I’m not aiming to shirk responsibilities or to go off the grid to meditate with a swami. I just want to stop chronically prefacing every idea with “I’ll be happier/better/more content when…” and be okay with what I’ve already got going on. I want to squeeze the good stuff out of the months, days, hours, minutes, seconds…like an industrial strength juicer to get all the vitamins and electrolytes and energy-boosters. And I also want to face the less-than-good stuff — the hurts, the frustrations, the disappointments and anger — without flinching and without falling into a self-imposed tunnel of gloom. A challenge of the highest order, don’t you think?

I’m just thinking as I write, as usual.

P.S. The topmost graphic is actually Japanese calligraphy from a book by Mistuo Aida that a friend gifted me almost twenty years ago. It translates to “Here and Now”.

P.P.S. The other drawings are by K, which I keep in my journal. They make me happy and seemed to go well with the calligraphy.

23 thoughts on “Here and Now

  1. This post speaks to me. I am always in a hurry, to get somewhere. I don’t even know why! Trying my best to take all the goodness out of everyday too.

    1. I’m right with you, Brooke! If I’m not vigilant, I quickly fall into the busy-busy-busy mode. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t use the word “busy” this year but already I’ve slipped up many times :-).

    1. It’s becoming a global issue, I think. Everyone’s connected digitally all the time and it just increases the daily pace. SO hard to resist though, isn’t it?

  2. What a lovely post. It’s something I’m constantly working on myself; being present, being grateful, taking a minute. I utterly failed this morning when the bf called in sick and wanted me to snuggle in bed a while longer but I had “too many things to do” and left to go sit in front of a computer. It’s a modern disease. Thanks again for the LOVELY illustrations and I am sending you all my best wishes that your health continues to be good. xo

    1. Sounds like you’ve got yourself a winner of a bf, Heather Lou! The business-and-pleasure juggle is a tricky one for sure. Thanks for the well wishes and I’m delighted that the illustrations got to you whole and unmangled :-).

  3. This really resonates with me. I find it very easy to get bogged down in the day to day whirl – like you I had to confront my own mortality through a health issue a few years ago – I also seem to need to learn this lesson over and over again!

    1. So sorry to hear you had a health scare too, Liz! It appears that we’ve both been very lucky, and in some ways, it’s probably a positive sign that we can slide back into the pre-illness mode – means we’re a lot healthier and the hazards aren’t front and center, right?

  4. What a lovely post, very thoughtful and thought provoking. It is true when our mortality stares at us in the face or at least tap us on the shoulder that we sit up and take notice. I’m glad to hear that your health has improved greatly (and may it continue to do so).

    I think that’s why there seems to be more a call to meditate these days. I’m reading a little book called Ten Breaths to Happiness, touching life in its fullness. I am hoping to take up this small practice as a start. Do you know how hard it is just to tune out and take ten deep, slow breaths consciously?!!!

    1. I love the visual of mortality tapping us on the shoulder. Very poetic! I’ve been experimenting with meditation these last few months, and I can honestly say that it’s changing my life. The book sounds intriguing and I’ll have to check it out! Thank you, Melissa :-).

  5. What a thoughtful post — so true! You know, there is always hope and who knows what future holds? My mother-in-law told me my father-in-law was often sick when they met but he was strong and healthy when I knew him and died at 101. I was surprised that she told me he was anything but healthy during his lifetime but perhaps it was her love of cooking and married life that helped him live a long life. And one of my many uncles who had heart surgery at late middle age and who everyone thought would be the first to go died in his 90s while his seemingly healthy younger brother died suddenly of a heart attack in his 60s. Life is full of surprises, some good, some not so good, but it’s wise to take care of oneself and savor the present as really, that is all we have.

    1. “Who knows what the future holds?” I can’t think of truer words! And how amazing that your father-in-law and uncle both enjoyed such longevity. 101!!!! I recently read a book about centenarians and found it to be very inspirational. I have much to learn from folks who have seen it all. 🙂 Thank you, Kay!

  6. A lovely, and inspiring post. I find my morning walk with the pup such a source of strength, and it reminds me what is important every day. A little bit of quiet time.

    1. I’m convinced quiet time is absolutely critical for mental equilibrium, Denise! Plus you get exercise with your pup, so win-win! 🙂

  7. I found this particularly moving this morning; I sit in my chair with my cup of tea and catch up on yesterday’s blog posts as an increasing treasured part of my morning ritual, and this post made me realize why I savour your blog posts: you have an incredibly powerful ability to connect with people through your writing. It’s something that makes me really enjoy reading anything you choose to write- from the sweet simple posts filled with happy watercolours, to these weightier, meaning-filled reflections, every word has resonated within me. All this to say: thank you for writing! I value your contribution to the collective art and craft of humanity,.

    1. Thank YOU for your thoughtful comment, Jules! I’m honored by your words…a little cowed by them too, since I don’t quite feel worthy, but you’ve made me want to continue improving my writing! Writing is something I have to do or I get very cranky. 🙂

  8. Just wanting to send you a cyber hug Sanae as you – along with so many of us – struggle to find the perfect life balance. Elusive, most likely, but a worthy pursuit nonetheless. I am convinced, as you have noted, that increasing technology does NOT help with the pursuit of balance. Yesterday my two girls were in the driveway playing basketball on a beautiful spring evening, and I found myself on the computer knowing I should join them but having other “stuff” to do. *sigh*. And then there’s the guilt that goes along with it!
    I know you’re making real efforts to improve your health and you’ve done SO much to do so! I’m proud of you and know that you will continue to make great strides in this area. Because you’re awesome like that:)

    1. Technology is a double-edged sword, Lucinda! I don’t know how any of us can function without it anymore, but I also fear for the young generation that doesn’t know a world without easy access to everything…and hey, been there with the laptop + children wanting to play = guilt. I will probably forever struggle with that!!

  9. Nothing beats an impromptu picnic in lovely evening light. How delightful. We’ve had two days of pleasant weather after it seemed winter had come early. The kids are delighted that winter is “over now” and the days will get longer again. Bless their ignorant optimism!
    K’s drawing do go very well, did she do them with a calligraphy brush, or a chunky, half failing texta?

    1. Ha, love the half-failing texta part! It’s a calligraphy pen with a brush tip, which I allow her to use sparingly since she tends to be, um, overly enthusiastic with it. And hooray for pleasant balmy weather — hope your kids are right, Shelley!

  10. and this is exactly why my blogging is so infrequent these days – i’m taking the chances to be outside all weekend long rather than sewing, visiting with my husband rather than burying my nose in the laptop, having impromptu weeknight hangouts with our neighbors rather than trying to hit my self-imposed deadlines, keeping my house in order rather than letting it get out of control…oh and sleeping more! it’s weird because i miss sewing/blogging but it’s just not working for me to do it as often right now…so i’m letting that be okay. seems a lot of us bloggers are?

    1. You’ve got your priorities right, girl! It’s always the self-imposed deadlines that get to me the most because invariably in the middle of it I think, “What am I doing???” Blogging does seem to be dying. Or at least that’s what I’m hearing/reading a lot lately but I still love them!

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