“Now Is Now. It Can Never Be a Long Time Ago.”

When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?”

“They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said. “Go to sleep, now.”

But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the firelight gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting.

She thought to herself, “This is now.”

She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.

–Laura Ingalls Wilder, the final page of Little House in the Big Woods

What a masterpiece this book is! And how I love the illustrations of Garth Williams.

This quotation has special meaning for me. That phrase, “Now is now,” has haunted me my whole life. As a writer, my specialty is endings (I’m really good at writing endings, if I do say so myself), and the last few pages of Happier at Home is probably the best thing I’ve written in my whole life. And it’s all about this passage from Little House in the Big Woods, and the meaning of “now is now.”

From the final page:

As I walked up the steps to my building on that spring afternoon, and looked up at the windows of my little apartment in the big city, I reminded myself, “Now is now.” And I know what the child Laura did not yet know. Now is now, and now is already a long time ago.

I remind myself, every day: Now is now.

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  • Andrea

    Beautiful, Gretchen. I adore Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Your fresh lesson from Laura along with this sweet illustration is a lovely way to start my morning. Thank you.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear from a fellow LIW fan.

  • Anne Stockwell

    I once read an essay that averred that The Long Winter is THE Great American Novel. I wish I could remember who wrote it but it was not a kidlit maven. Anyway, I like your choice of quote.

    • gretchenrubin

      I was thinking about The Long Winter during the polar vortex. We thought we had it bad.

  • peninith1

    A very moving passage–both in the Wilder book and yours. We are fortunate when life gives us a moment that makes us so deeply happy and grateful that we are impelled to ‘record’ it as a day of Auld Lang Syne right then and there.

  • Maureen

    I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. All of them. Other than this one which I have given to my niece I have all in hardback.

  • rubyratt

    This brings me back to your piece on “mindfulness”. I am certainty not any good at this practice but occasionally I remember that what I am doing now is most important, and it opens a whole new world in front of me. Every time this occurs to me my eyes are opened to the reality that a lot of today is lost in our thoughts of tomorrow. I have never read these books although I was a faithful fan of the TV show as a little girl. Just the mention of the title alone brings warm feelings and joy to my heart. Maybe it’s time to pick up a book and enjoy “a long time ago”, today….

  • Liz and Ryan Bower

    Love this Gretchen! Such an AMAZING reminder of embracing the now! It was so much fun to meet you on Wednesday in DC! Thank you for making the trip and sharing your heart with us!

    • gretchenrubin

      Great to meet you! Thanks for coming.

  • susan

    Not only is now destined to become our long ago, now is also the future. For what we accomplish or fail to accomplish in “our now” will surely become the future of our children.

  • This makes me want to read the whole series again! Loved those books growing up!!

  • Sharyn

    Just curious – do you see this as being any different from the concept of “These are the good old days?” …….with a nod to Carly Simon.

  • MidwesternGirl4ever

    This makes me think of a passage from Mindy Kaling’s book that completely resonates with me, since we are about the same age : “In 2004, when I started working at The Office and had no friends, I would listen to Graceland and just weep. On the way to work, on the way home. And not just the more ballad-y songs about loss, like “Graceland.” I even cried to “You Can Call Me Al.” The secret I learned is that albums that remind me of my childhood happiness make me incredibly sad now. I only have perfect memories of singing along toGraceland with my parents on long car rides to Virginia Beach to visit my parents’ friends. It’s sort of my go-to stock image of my childhood, actually. I think it has something to do with knowing I’ll never be able to go back to that time that makes me cry every time I listen to it.”

    • gretchenrubin

      I LOVED that book.

      • MidwesternGirl4ever

        I listened to the Mindy Kaling audio book during my drive from DC to Ohio at Thanksgiving. It was very entertaining. I loved seeing you in DC last week. What a great way to start 2014. Thank you for your great presentation. : )

  • Katherine

    Beautiful quote! I love the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Great reminder to live life in the present and motivation to make now more enjoyable.

  • jennie

    I’ve also never read any Laura Ingalls Wilder books, but I’m going to suggest it for my Book Club. Should I just start at the beginning or is there a special one I should suggest??

    • gretchenrubin

      Oh yes, start with the first one.

      How I envy you the pleasure of reading them for the very first time!

  • Jeanne

    Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” is the most important book I have ever read and/or listened to (over and over). Now is the only time there is. The past is a memory and the mind-projected future is often a cause of fear. To me the best time to remember that now is all there is, and that anything can be handled in the now, is when I am in the state of fear. Fear is always (always) about the future, even if it’s only one minute or one second in the future. Fear cannot stand up to the celestial presence of the now. So the way out of fear is to pull myself back into the present. Fully occupy my body and pay absolute attention to what I’m doing NOW. I’m getting the toothpaste out, I’m putting the toothpaste onto the brush, I’m brushing my teeth… There is tremendous peace in this practice.

    • peninith1

      I so agree with this. I have found Tolle, helpful, and also Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist teacher and writer–who I find has a slightly lighter and more gentle touch than the somewhat heavily philosophical Tolle. The point is the same. My tendency is more to be anxious about the future than depressed over the past, and the practice of being with whatever is there fully, in the present moment, has been greatly healing to my life and relationships.

      • Jeff

        Yep, I agree too. I keep Tolle’s CD’s in the car and listen to them often. It helps to hear his words when driving a car. I think we only see a little of what is around us, only of what’s coming or where we are going, never being now.
        I suppose that is a good analogy. We drive our bodies around, like our cars. Seeing only a fraction of the universe around us, living in the past or future. We are no more our bodies then we are our cars. We and our bodies are two separate things.

  • I love it. I think often about today being tomorrow’s yesterday and it helps me focus a little bit better on living today so that it will be a day I’d be proud of.

  • CB

    The ending of that book made me cry when I read it to my daughter last year because it was perfect in describing an almost zen-like quality and the happy perfect memories of childhood.

  • Connie Ward

    I just talked to my 9 year old daughter and 2 of her friends about this book/series this weekend! I recalled to them how the writing left me with such vivid pictures and appreciation for life ‘back then’ when travel and life was different ….boy has technology and such advanced and changed things. I told them about Laura’s experiences of smelling her first orange and eating her first piece of bacon and how remarkable this now everyday non-events where to her because they were so much less likely to come upon. Great life lessons in those books. So I definitely connected with this Now Is Now reference! Best, Connie

  • Jenna Sauber

    I didn’t really “get” that piece until I recently read Wendy McClure’s book “The Wilder Life,” and then went back to reread “Little House in the Big Woods.” It’s something I’ve been trying to really take to heart in the last year, especially since I left my job, friends, and adopted city of DC in May of 2013 and moved to California to be with my parents and to focus on my writing. Whenever I start stressing about the future, I remind myself that “Now is now.” Such profound thoughts from a little girl, all those years ago.

    • gretchenrubin

      I loved The Wilder Life.

  • Alison

    This post made me cry (in a good way). It is beautiful and heartbreaking. The impression of comfort and security that was Laura’s ‘now’ is something I so want my little daughter to feel, and to be comforted by and secure in when her ‘now’ is a long way in the past.

  • Nicola

    Hi Gretchen,

    I just read this pair of Blog posts about procrastination on waitbutwhy by Tim Urban. I just thought I’d pass them along because they seem extremely relevant to your interests in habits and happiness, and also because I’d love to know if you had a take on procrastination and/or if it’s something you talk about in Before and After. Links below



    • gretchenrubin

      Yes! it’s a major theme in Before and After.

      • BKF

        Good! I can’t wait to lay my hands on it!

        By the way, I just travelled a bit myself and I felt so thrilled to see the familiar “Happier at Home” paperback in the little stores at airports.

  • Sofia Hellstrom