Toward the end of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (if you haven't ever seen it, please go watch it, cry for a few hours straight, and then come back to read this), there's a beautiful scene on the beach in which Kate Winslet's Clementine (moments from potentially being erased from his memory forever) tells Joel (Jim Carrey) "This is it, Joel. I'll be gone soon."
“I know,” he says.
“What do we do?”
Enjoy it. Faced with this unbearable impending loss, with the certainty that his Clementine will be gone to him forever, he says, "enjoy it."
I think about this a lot.
I think of this because I have literally no idea what the future holds, because I'm afraid of what will happen to the people I love, what will happen to me, what will happen to all of us in this increasingly tumultuous and uncertain world. I think about what it means to enjoy it, in the face of this uncertainty. Or rather, this terribly certain impending pain and loss. How to accept it and still enjoy what comes along with it: fleeting moments of time when we're present, when we're here, when we're truly with the people we love.
I think about this when I sit across the table from my wife, talking, eating, talking more. Trying to figure out what to do next, where to go, how to be. We spend so much time at this table talking. Dreaming together, despairing over unmet expectations or unexpected difficulties, coming up with new dreams, new plans, new everything.
After living the better part of the past two years apart from one another, I know now that we're undoubtedly much better together. We dream bigger, take more risks, work harder and smarter, and pour more of our hearts and souls into everything we do. We come back daily to this table to talk, eat, talk more. It's at this table that we decided to move to Italy. It's at this table that we've decided on multiple occasions to have children, not have children, buy a house, not buy a house, change jobs, not change jobs, change careers, find new friends, revive old relationships, where we've helped one another to understand ourselves better, and to become better versions of ourselves. We fight, sometimes, too, at this table. And then we reach across the table and hold hands forever. Sitting at this table, together, sometimes for hours, one meal bleeding into the next. Growing closer, stronger, deeper in love. Partners—no, companions.
But sometimes we stare at our smartphones. We eat in silence, not looking at one another. Or we talk past each other, lost in our own thoughts and anxieties, not really hearing what the other is saying. We fail to connect. It happens, and it sucks.
Even so, I know that we have each other, now, my wife and I. And that someday one of us will be at this table alone. No hand to reach across to, no one to say this idea is good, that one is crap, no unwavering support at the end of a hard day, no warm, comforting smile, no talking, eating, and talking more.
Someday, it will be a table for one. Either she, or I, will lose a companion.
Companion. That's the perfect word, you know? Sure, we use it to basically mean someone you spend a lot of time with, with whom you share experiences good and bad, but it's more than that. Go back a little, to its Latin roots: com, meaning "together with," and panis, meaning "bread." In Old French it becomes compaignon: one who breaks bread with another.
What greater act of love is there? What deeper expression of connection with another could there be, but to break bread together? To share a meal and a few moments of time with another totally-flawed-but-who-isn't person. To spend a little time looking past our differences and our differences of opinions to occupy the same space and time with another human soul in this otherwise confusing and sometimes hostile universe. To be brought together with bread.
This is what I have with my wife.
This is what I think Clementine and Joel choose at the very end of Eternal Sunshine (after the memory-erasing process is revealed to them and they reunite as strangers).
Joel: I can’t see anything that I don’t like about you.
Clementine: But you will! But you will. You know, you will think of things. And I’ll get bored with you and feel trapped because that’s what happens with me.
Clementine: [pauses] Okay.
"Okay," they each say, knowing there will be pain and suffering if they remain together. It's not just cake and ice cream and daydreams and daisies ahead. They will hurt each other. But they recognize that with this hurt comes something greater and all-too-rare: a true companion. Someone with whom to enjoy the few moments during which we're granted passage on this earth. In the face of certain pain and loss and suffering, we can choose to enjoy it. To focus, to be present, to see and embrace the fullness and the truth of what's right in front of us and run towards it, arms open, with abandon.
To love. As much as we can for a long as we're allowed.
“For there is so little time to waste during a life, what little there is being so precious, that we must waste it, in whatever way we come to waste it, with all our heart.” —Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey