Surely more than once you have hiked atop mountains spilling to the sea or downed a glass of wine that had no equal or plunged from a dock into an emerald bay and thought: “This is so perfect. If I never do this again in my life, I will be satisfied.”
But it never holds true. We are all insatiable. It is only natural to want more, much more, of what’s exquisite.
We’re having an extended bout of that thirst now, all of us, collectively anchored to our sofas — and for good reason — as we thumb through maps and remember past pleasures. We are learning the sweetening effect of denial, how more gorgeous the vistas are now that we can no longer see them.
A deep breath is in order. A huge, collective inhale. If you have ever had one of those diagnoses that make you sit upright and reappraise everything, you will know what I mean. You will be attuned to this coronavirus moment. I had such a diagnosis nearly three years ago. I staggered from the doctor’s office and immediately began to tally the things I wanted to do just one more time.
Since then, amid relapses and recoveries, I have reoriented my relationship with time and expectation. I have seen the beauty of life on the six-month plan, which goes something like this: Be confident in the span you know you have; extract from it all you can; look no further. That approach can add great potency to every shared dinner, every concert, every walk in the park, every swim.
Jotting your own just-one-more-time list can be bracing and clarifying. My post-diagnosis list was simple, stark in its way, but deadly serious.
Above all, I wanted to get back, just once more, to the cottage we’d bought four summers before on a harbor on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. At the very end of North America. From our porch you can see the last gasp of the Appalachian range before it slouches into the Atlantic.
That cottage embodied summer simplicity, but my real wish was a few miles down the coast. If I made it through the fall, the winter, the spring; the chemo, the radiation, the surgery; if I was still of one piece and not consumed by my attacker, I just wanted to go to White Point. And there at the tip of that magical windswept thump of rock, to swim in the frothy sea as I had with my daughters for four summers straight.
Nearly a year passed, and on an August evening after a rain, I crested the hill and saw all of White Point sprawled like a slice of the Scottish moors before me. I clenched my fists and broke into a run. At the water’s edge I stripped to my shorts and dived. The Atlantic’s embrace, cold and briny, brought at once a jolt of gratitude and joy and forgiveness.
Setbacks prompted other just-once-more aspirations, now tucked into the recent past. To hike the Grand Canyon. To fish in Patagonia with my wife. Always while keeping the horizon close, and humble.
We are all reorienting now, reappraising, sorting what matters from what doesn’t. From the fear and uncertainty of this moment, from the shock of this global deprivation, we might even extract a deeper love for all we are given.
It’s not easy, maintaining that heightened tang of appreciation. I received good news earlier this year and can already feel myself becoming gluttonous again in my good fortune. Please, give me White Point again this summer, and the summer after that. Just one more decade of White Points. And the Dalmatian Coast again, too, would be great. I have allowed myself the presumptuousness of future summers.
Soon, if lucky, we will return to some version of our previous freedoms. And if lucky, just once, we will do the things we so want to do now — the huge dinner with friends, the concert at Carnegie Hall, the trek through the Alps — as though we will never do it again. Wiser for the jolt, we will take our time before taking all we’ve been granted for granted again.
Neil King is a writer and former global economics editor at The Wall Street Journal.
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