Present Perfect

There’s something I know about myself: I like big projects. I like to look ahead and think of how my plans will work out. I don’t mind doing hard work with little immediate payoff when I think of it that way.

In fact, I prefer for my days to include these long-term projects. I’ve felt disappointed, as if my days were shallow if I don’t include them.

This year, including this summer, I’ve been supplementing Veronica’s education with online classes. We’ve done math, but I’ve also had her working on grammar. The grammar I found is probably high school level, but I think learning something when there isn’t the pressure of a test makes it easier.

It’s our language, after all. We should kind of know it already.

We learned about the perfect tense. The present perfect tense in particular. This is to express that something is complete (perfect). And it is complete, and the completion continues on into the present.

“I have eaten.” That means I’m not hungry, and I won’t be hungry for a while.

“I have been sleeping.” My sleep occurred and is expected to continue.

These things are presently perfect.

These projects that I am working on? The steps I take to get the projects done are not perfect. It is only true that I am continuing to work on them with the hope that they will be perfectly complete. That I will get to the point of saying “That project has been done.”

I also finished a beautiful book this week, When Breath Becomes Air. It’s a sad story of a doctor, who was nearing his completion of becoming a surgeon, but gets cancer and succumbs.

He has been dead for a few years now.

He had to grapple with death as a surgeon, treating patients who had cancer. The he himself got cancer.

He and his wife had been planning to have children after their residencies. But when cancer entered their lives, they moved up their plans.

The dying doctor got to enjoy holding his newborn daughter as he was preparing to leave his life. He described this experience as a perfect joy.

Perfect. His was wrapped up in the perfect present tense.

He has been holding his daughter, and he has been happy.

That’s a different kind of happy. A completed happiness completed and perfect in the doing of it.

That is hard to find in a life full of plans and future payoffs. But this sick doctor found it after all, in those last months.

He, like me, had been a ravenously ambitious person. He worked hard to achieve what he set out to do: become a neurosurgeon.

But he couldn’t do it. His body wouldn’t hold him up.

In the end, even in the very end, he didn’t lose his drive to do. He worked up to the end on creating the manuscript of the book that I was able to read.

I take this to mean, it is okay to hold both kinds of happiness. I don’t have to give up my delight in the long horizon goals.

And I can remember that there are present perfect bubbles of happiness that are worth it protecting as well.