Hold On to the Meaning of Life—Why Living in the Moment is Never Enough
By David Warner

What makes any moment matter, including reaching the highest peaks and grandest vistas, is seeing the paths we walked together and how we shaped each other along the way.

For twelve years Kevin Scruggs made a video of his daughter on the first day of school. He asked questions. She answered. They exchanged “I love you’s.” Then, for her high school graduation, he carefully assembled all those moments into a short video. Clips from the first two or three years are cute. Sweet. Endearing. But as a girl grows into a woman before our eyes, and the voice of her father breaks with emotion, it settles in on us: this is not just a digital timeline. This is an expression of two people shaping one another, helping each other become who they will be. This is the big picture. This is life in the making.


“I wish I had videos like that” viewers must be thinking. I have to smile at the irony of my own regret. Once again summer is flying by. And once again my wife and I are madly capturing the moments and events of our children’s lives. But what will we do with those images? What will they mean to us in the years ahead? Will we ever look back and use them to appreciate who our children have become?  


Consider this storybook example (which actually reveals a rather ordinary pattern). Many in the sports world cheered as Stephen Curry led the Golden State Warriors to their second NBA title in three years. But the full meaning of that achievement can only be seen by looking back. You have to see the home movies of scrappy, five-foot-five Steph in Etobicoke, Canada, playing hockey, indoor soccer, volleyball, and (yes) basketball in a tiny K-12 school of 200 students (see video here—Steph is number 12). Then at Davidson College, leading his teammates to the Elite Eight. After that, hard work with Coach K, Team USA, and others who helped Steph develop his natural gifts. Then, at last, with the Warriors, finding a brand of team play that may change basketball forever. The truth is, the most meaningful part of Curry’s rise wasn’t his recent championship win. It’s what got him there. Which is why when it was his turn to take home his first NBA trophy, he brought it back to his childhood house, back to his high school, and back to his college. He retraced his steps and connected with the people who helped him become who he is today.


There’s a powerful lesson in Stephen’s story. If all we have is isolated images, snapshots and videos buried in phones and hard drives, and posts scattered across social media networks, it’s difficult to retrace our steps—to gather up, look back, and hold on to the deeper meaning of our experiences. What makes any moment matter, including reaching the highest peaks and grandest vistas, is seeing the paths we walked together and how we shaped each other along the way.


These days, more and more social media users (like Scruggs) are creating compilation videos—“vista views” of life’s little journeys. They’ve found ingenious ways to archive, organize, and edit together individual moments in order to show where they lead and what they mean. Social media channels are helping, automatically serving up “collections” drawn from the media we post. Yet even their sophisticated algorithms can’t possibly identify the moments that matter most to us or reveal the thrilling “through-lines” of life.


Thankfully, a few other apps are making it easier for us to step back and take in a panoramic view. When we do, we not only appreciate the meaning of our past steps, we start to comprehend the value of the steps to come.


So, how do we live both in this moment and beyond? Here are a few suggestions:

  • In whatever apps or social platforms you use, find the functions that already exist to save the media and communications you care about, including photos, videos, messages, voice memos, and texts.
  • If it’s not automatic, be sure to date what you keep, so you can arrange it in chronological order.
  • Where possible, use tags—for people and for types of activities. This will allow you to trace storylines that emerge over time. When your daughter wins the high school science fair, you’ll want to find that video of her first experiment—a baking soda volcano erupting all over grandma’s mahogany table.
  • Think about those “mountain top” occasions when you’ll want to show a pathway to the present and the people who made it possible. What will you (and they) want to look back on and remember when you gather for a first birthday, a graduation, a wedding, a family reunion, a 50th anniversary party, a retirement celebration, a funeral, and more?
  • Remember, your life is full of remarkable stories that will be treasured by people you don’t know yet: a future spouse, children, grandchildren, and so on.


In all of this, you may need to consciously resist taking an “all-or-nothing” approach. Be assured that we all miss moments we wish we’d captured. Not a big deal. Get what you can without interrupting the flow of life or diminishing the joy of living it. And be sure not to worry about how you’ll eventually assemble your memories. Just putting the content you never want to lose in one place (or in a few places, if that’s easier) will make a huge difference in the years to come.


As you do, you’ll discover a secret: when you pay the price to assemble the big picture, even the smallest moments become priceless. In the American play “Our Town,” a young woman dies in childbirth and is given the opportunity to look back on her past. She thinks she’s lived an unremarkable life. But as she sees herself growing into a woman, and the people who helped to shape her life, she gasps at the meaning of even ordinary events. “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it, every, every minute?” she asks. Of course, the answer is no. Which is why living in the moment is never enough. It’s the sweep of the past that gives meaning to the present, and helps us embrace the future with greater purpose than before.


(Watch Kevin Scrugg’s video here.)

Once again summer is flying by. And once again my wife and I are madly capturing the moments and events of our children’s lives. But what will we do with those images?

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