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Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Life is a Series of In-Between Places

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Edited By: Aneesha Chandra

Growing up, my mom used to tell me, live in the moment, [redacted for unnecessary privacy purposes]. Not unlike many things she said in her role as mom-cum-motivational speaker, it made no sense. As a moody teenager, the moments of my days were populated by why did I do/say that?! and what show am I going to watch tomorrow and which snack — chocolate-chip cookies, of course — should I pair it with? and general random thoughts of irritation (when my mom called out for me to eat lunch for the zillionth time), bliss (when I finally toppled onto my soft, soft bed), and revenge (when my sister didn’t close the door behind her). Do those latter fleeting reactions to some random event in my periphery mean I was living in the moment? If not, what does it mean for one to live in the moment? Confusion abounds. In this essay, I will-

Living in the moment seems to be similar to one of those things people say, like life is a journey. Though one acknowledges that every journey has an end, a destination to be reached, the idea is to enjoy every moment of this journey of life because it’s the process, not the outcome, that matters. Curiously, I find that this motto of “enjoy every moment of your life” is often conditional on something akin to a multi-stop travel itinerary, beginning from birth to school to college to work to marriage to children to retirement to death, in that order. Life is but a series of destinations; where is the journey? It’s much like a family trip around Europe; having fun is highly dependent on following everything on the excruciatingly detailed itinerary down to the last timed bathroom break. Is living in the moment conditional as well? Does one have to be a happy-go-lucky, inspirational, optimistic, sensitive individual for the magic to work?

(Spoiler alert: the answer is no.)

In the early months of 2020, when I insisted on calling myself an adult when I really wasn’t, I started to understand what my mom really meant, or at least some creative interpretation of the phrase (age-old wisdom never fails despite time and generations). The memory is vivid: it’s a quiet Monday morning. The only difference from all the other Mondays is the fact that it’s the Monday. You know, that Monday in that fortunate week somewhere between February and March when the weather is neither too hot nor too cold and everyone fancies themselves a nature-lover. It’s also that fortunate day of the week where the news of the perfect weather has yet to reach every student on campus and morning people have no excuse to kick sleepily grumbling night owls out of bed. The precious outcome: an acute scarcity of large groups of friends sprawling across the lawns, soaking in the warmth, and driving away good vibes with loud chatter. Class had let out early that fateful Monday morning, leaving me caught in that awkward time when the to-and-fro between my room and my next class would take more time than actually relaxing in my room, and sitting outside doing nothing held no charm in the middle of the day. It had been an easy decision, really; what’s one lazy not-yet-adult to do? I sit outside, legs crossed beneath me, soft indie music playing in my ears, a breeze wafting through my hair, sunlight ablaze on my dark skin. My thoughts drift; I wonder about the tricks sunlight can play on brown skin, marveling at the beautiful hues it evokes, affirming how much I love the colour of my skin right now in this transient moment where everything feels timeless… 

And this is it. This is not a daydream I need to wake from, not a fantasy I need to jolt out of, but a moment in reality. I’m conscious. I’m grounded. I didn’t know then but I think this must be what living in the moment means: to be aware, to allow yourself to be in a moment, to experience yourself as who you really are. unabashedly. I call them in-between places though these moments don’t really occupy space in the tangible sense. I like to think of them as having no real beginning or end, no starting point or destination; it’s just you, the world, and your relationship to everything in the world in motion in time. 

The transient nature of in-between places can feel a little scary retrospectively because humans are nothing if not creatures of structure and stability and in-between places are hard to define. Sometimes, the experience of living in the moment can be unnerving when your present isn’t exactly picture-perfect. It could be stressful even to be in that state of transience, not knowing where you’re going, hyper-aware of everything — every thought, every feeling, every experience — in the right now. I suppose people may feel the need to escape from their present every now and then. In-between places mean something more to me though. It’s something like an escape from the present while remaining grounded in the now. You could think of it as a change in focus. Problems persist in the present but sometimes you carve out a space for yourself where these problems have no existential value and only you and your reality matter.

Finding in-between places is really easy when you know where to look. All transport stations — be it airports, train stations, bus stops, metro stations — have some ethereal quality about them that allows you to be in the moment without a facade. It could be the sense that nothing is permanent here; you spend one two three hours with people you’ll never see again and it is easy to slip into the transience of it all because the place itself is meant to be a temporary space in time, a momentary respite until you move on. Simply being in motion usually does the trick for me, in cars and buses and trains and metros. Particularly, those evening trips on the shuttle from Delhi to campus after a long, long day. A seat by the window, cold air from the AC blasting on my hot skin, the passing streets and traffic and people, the sunlight filtering through the windows slowly fading, Spotify automatically playing a new song I’m too drowsy to save even though it sounds good, the quiet solitude; in that moment, I feel more present than ever. 

I carve out in-between places during 4:45 PM snack breaks on the first floor of the mess, laughing at a joke in an episode of Modern Family for the twelfth time. Sometimes, an in-between place can look like sitting in the storm (read: the mess during lunch hour), making notes on my Abnormal Psychology textbook, surrounded by the white noise of people shouting to be heard over each other. It can be an early dinner at the dhaba, waiting for a paneer paratha I ordered twenty minutes ago, the blades of a fan whirring, soft conversations in the periphery. Sometimes, it can look like movie night in my bed, curled under a warm, fuzzy blanket, falling asleep to blue light filtered through my crooked glasses. While small moments like these make for excellent in-between places, even so-called “destinations in life” such as college feels like an in-between place. The experience of college itself seems transient despite its significance, perhaps long-lasting only in the memories it gives me. It often seems like a brief stop in my journey, much like a metro station, where I’ll catch the next train to another in-between place.

I wonder if life is but a series of in-between places.

It is 6:37 PM right now, the sun slowly descending, and oh, this is an in-between place. The lights around campus slowly blink to life even as the sun throws a tantrum in the form of fiery reds and oranges and yellows across the sky. I gently flick at a tiny spider on my shirt and it disappears from sight. There’s a breeze in my hair, there are words at the tips of my fingers adorned with silver rings, I am alive. I’ve never worn my writer’s jeans outside but I can see the appeal.

It is 6:46 PM; it’s another in-between place! The sun is relentless in announcing its presence, though it switches strategies from demanding acknowledgment to requesting it by leaving a pretty pink sky in its wake. Living in the moment now is to take blurry pictures of the sky, the buildings, the lights because lines and curves give form and meaning, smudges and colours and blurs bring feelings and the abundance of something that makes your heart burst because don’t you feel how alive you are right now? 

It’s 6:51 PM, a minute of an in-between place. The air is musty, mosquitos are a proper delight. People walk by, footsteps masked by the grass, footsteps shuffling on the bricks, voices lilting. 

Another in-between place at 6:57 PM: the sun has given up and the sky is a light shade of blue. The biting stings of mosquitos at my ankles drive me up those godforsaken steps to the library where my bones chill and my breath becomes tangible, and I continue to write. There really is no better time to live in the moment than right now.

Rhea Thomson

Ashoka '21

That one person who just made the cut. Also an aspiring psychologist.
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