This essay was reader-submitted for our essay series on themes of joy, bliss, lightheartedness, and wonder.

Last night when I crawled into bed, I rolled over on my back, made sure everything was comfortable and stared up at my stars. When I see them every night, those tiny star-shaped leftovers of childhood from when this was my sons’ room, they remind me to be still. To be quiet. To just be. In my cool, dark room with the little glowing stars, I feel calm and centered. It’s my moment at the end of every day to connect with myself. To realize that no matter what happens, I’m okay. 

“I traded that perfect few minutes of watching the stars fade for the bright glow of my attention-demanding phone.”

A thought popped into my head, I needed to add something to my rolling to-do list. I grabbed my phone from my nightstand, added to my list, and then got sucked into the void of apps. I looked at social media. I checked my email. I replied to a few texts. Fifteen minutes passed like seconds, not coming out of my scrolling coma until I yawned, realizing the time. Closing everything, I laid my phone down and looked back at the ceiling. My stars were gone … faded. I missed it. 

I could have turned the light back on to recharge the magic, but that’s not the point. I lost that moment, squandered it. I traded that perfect few minutes of watching the stars fade for the bright glow of my attention-demanding phone. 

I felt sad. What if that was the last time I ever saw them? What if I never had my beautiful moment of daily peace again? My heart started to race along with my mind, wondering what other small, seemingly insignificant moments will I miss after their last time? 

“There will be a last time for everything I do.”

I started a list in my mind, not daring to reach for my phone again. There will be a last time for everything I do. A last time for eating my favorite foods. For seeing my favorite people. A last time for watching my favorite show. Wearing my favorite clothes. 

My parents are gone, and I often wonder what my last words were to them. What will my last words be to anyone? It’s why I always tell my grandparents I love them as I’m leaving. I know they know, but I don’t want to wonder after they’re gone. Every visit with them could be the last and I don’t want to regret not going, making the time (not taking the time) to talk to my Memaw. Really listening to her amazing stories from their travel adventures and the history of our tiny town to the time she almost died by accidentally drinking poison (mixed with water in a jar on the counter, to kill ants).

My dogs are getting older too and my heart is already mourning the last time I hear one of them wipe their face on the side of my bed after getting a drink or the last time I have to chase the other one to get my socks back. Someday will be my last drive to work, watching the sunrise on the way there or the sunset on my way home. The Dr Pepper I’m drinking could be the final one, not ever again feeling that joyous taste of the first sip, when the acidic sweetness hits my tongue. 

“Each trip my husband and I take to our favorite flea market might be the last.”

A day will come when my sisters and I won’t send funny memes in our group text, trying to out-meme each other in their outrageousness. Each trip my husband and I take to our favorite flea market might be the last. We won’t know it was until it’s past. The family game nights, the evenings spent just sitting on the porch playing cards and talking, the way I lace my fingers through his while he drives. There will be a last time for all of it. 

There’s an amazing scene in the movie Soul where Dorothea tells a story to Joe, the main character who’s searching for the meaning of his life.

“I heard this story about a fish,” she tells him. “He swims up to the older fish and says, “I’m trying to find this thing they call the ocean.’”

“‘The ocean?’ says the older fish. ‘That’s what you’re in right now.’”

“‘This?’ says the young fish. ‘This is water. What I want is the ocean.” 

“I’ve forgotten to appreciate the ocean I’m in.”

I couldn’t have stopped those tears for a million dollars watching that scene. It’s been a few years since I vowed to appreciate the little things after seeing it. I’ve forgotten to appreciate the ocean I’m in.

We’re all in it. Even with all the horrible things around us, we’re in the ocean. It’s not just water. This is what we’re going to miss. The simple, small things that we take for granted while we’re searching for something bigger. This is what we’ll miss, what our hearts and souls will ache for. 

“This is what we’ll miss, what our hearts and souls will ache for.”

The taste of a fresh biscuit still warm from the oven, smothered in butter and blackberry jam. The sound of my grandson laughing as he steals food from my plate. The way I smile when my husband walks in the room, every single time. The feeling of stepping into my beloved pink bathtub filled with bubbles, reaching for the new issue of my favorite magazine, and enjoying the sound of quiet. Hugging my kids when they’re celebrating and hugging them harder when they’re hurting. The feeling I get from writing. It’s all my ocean, all around me. 

Tonight, when I slide between the sheets, roll on my back and look up, I’ll remind myself not to miss the moment. I won’t reach for my phone. I won’t run lists in my head. I won’t rehash the events of the day or be anxious for the ones of tomorrow. I’ll just be. In my ocean. Under my stars.

Regina McKay is the wife of a firefighter, mother of five adult children, and passionate advocate of all things vintage, especially her pink bathtub. She works as an accountant but plans on using her experiences with mental health treatment to transition into a career in Criminal Justice/Mental Health reform. After hitting her rock bottom, she learned for her happiness didn’t come in a pill bottle. She now strives for contentment and appreciates moments of joy when they come.