Beyond Your Years with Luis Martinez

How to Live in the Moment 

Why is it that our long lives feel so short? After six, seven, eight, or even nine decades of life, how is it that we feel that it all went by in a flash? And how do we record, recall, and relish those moments that are so precious to us?

My mother lives in Miami; she will be 99 in June. Mami still lives in her own home and I visit her frequently. From time to time, when I sit quietly with her I open one of the several family photo albums that she compiled about 20 years ago. Mami smiles as she recognizes family events from the 1950’s and then I see her glow as she retells the stories. In my head, I can still hear the lullabies that Mami used to sing to my baby sister when we lived in Cuba.

Looking through those photo albums I also have fond memories of my father, Papi, who passed away in 2008. For example, when I was a little boy growing up in Havana, Papi would wake up early even on the weekends and go tinker in the garage. I would also get up and follow him around, like a puppy. I can still smell the odor of rubber tires, tools, grease, and gas in our garage on those early mornings. Papi, an accountant, was mechanically talented and he actually overhauled the engine of his 1948 Plymouth, right in our garage. He also took me to sports car races in Havana in the late 50’s. Those precious memories are so powerful that I’ve been a sports car racer for over 40 years.

embrace living

Luis (in white shirt) on a family vacation with his godfather, cousin, and Mami, now 98 (in front)

What memories do you cherish? And, just as importantly, what memories are you still creating today? While we have many fond memories from the past it’s also very important to appreciate the present and learn to live in the moment. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School suggests: “Mindfulness means paying attention to the situation you are currently in rather than letting your mind wander into the past or future.” 

Think about my examples: it was because I lived in the moment as a child that I can recall those influential events–Mami singing to my sister, Papi hoisting me on his shoulders at the races. So shouldn’t we be child-like when the moment matters? How do we become mindful? 

Should we rejoice and revel in the moment? We can all celebrate big events like a new grandchild, a wedding, a graduation, or a cruise. However, shouldn’t we celebrate the small things, too? A red-crested woodpecker in your yard, a gorgeous sunrise, or the neighbor’s daughter playing piano. And, if you like how that feels, you can make better. How?

Tell your family! Tell your friends! Take a photo or video! Share and celebrate! Just as we often want to share our grief and setbacks because it relieves some of the pain, we need to also share the good news as soon as it happens – make a phone call, send an email, post it on social media, tell others how good it feels to hear the ocean, find a bargain, chat with your grandson in the Army.

embrace living

Luis and his daughter skiing in 1990

Make time, create opportunities for memorable moments both large and small. A family reunion takes months to plan, but dropping in on your daughter and son in law with a bottle of wine takes only minutes. And go with the flow, maybe your best friend is having a bad day and just wants to emote – you know you can’t fix it, but just listen, let him share what’s on his mind, occupy the moment with him by just being there, without judgement.

Going for a walk in the woods? Stop and examine ants frantically working to bring food to their colony. How do they know what to do? Don’t they get lost? Then look up and watch an airliner leave contrails six miles above – where are all those people going? To see grandma? To visit a college? To emigrate to another nation? There are so many stories right around us and all we have to do is take time and observe.

Wear your love on your sleeve. Sure, someone might get suspicious, but don’t make that your problem. Think about those who welcome your love, who need your caring eyes, your gentle touch – maybe no one is visiting your friend next door. Maybe he just lost his wallet. Maybe she hasn’t heard from her son in years. Or maybe she wants to share some of her cherry pie. Whatever it is, they’re vulnerable at that moment and your love and affection will make a difference.

When I was 15, my father organized our family’s first vacation. We had just arrived in the US only three years earlier, and it had been a huge struggle to buy our way out of Communist Cuba, find work that my father could do while he learned English, and become financially stable. Ever the optimist, Papi put together some cash, he strapped a barbecue on the roof of our ’55 Chevy and we went on vacation from Dover, Delaware through Pennsylvania and into New York.

Ironically, Papi chose a state park in New York called Cuba Lake; that was our destination. When we arrived at the park, we unpacked our food and lit the BBQ (that’s how we made dinner, we had no money for restaurants). After some nice warm food and soft drinks, Papi seemed very contemplative, absorbed. I remember distinctly that he sat on the picnic bench and stared out over the lake. Then he began to sob uncontrollably. I asked, “Papi, what’s wrong? What’s the matter?” He said to me in Spanish, “We made it. We made it! Thank you God, we made it!”

“…It’s not the years in your life that count; it’s the life in your years.” 

– Abraham Lincoln

Luis Martinez is a guest blogger for St. John’s. He is an active senior that likes to observe and write about how people work at their careers, guide their businesses, strengthen their families, stay physically fit and mentally sharp, and race their sports cars. Luis habla español. Follow Luis on Twitter @BeyondYourYears, or email

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