Ichi-go ichi-e (一期一会 “one time, one meeting”) is a Japanese four-letter idiom (yojijukugo) that describes a cultural concept of treasuring meetings with people. The term is often translated as “for this time only,” “never again,” or “one chance in a lifetime.”
I’ve had 16,060 nights of sleep. This morning I woke up from the 16,061st sleep for the first time. I had my third cup of coffee for the first time. I took my fourth shower of the week for the first time. I put on the third dry cleaned shirt in three days for the first time. I watched my third consecutive sunrise for the very first time. Tomorrow I will kiss my wife of nearly two years for the very first time. And I’ll kiss her again for the first time a few seconds later. I’ll pet my dog for the first of hundreds of times soon after that. Everything is a first. Every second of every minute of every hour is a first moment of the first minute of the first hour of firsts. Everything is a first. Everything is new. Everything will never happen again. Our lives are millions of irreplaceable firsts that compound themselves upon each other in a catalog of fleeting firsts that become, to some, memories and to other living fabrics that are simultaneously appear and disappear. They can never be replaced and there are no seconds. Everything is a first.
This afternoon I spoke to the same men I’ve spoken to for two days for the very first time. A young man said “Every day is different.” He is right. Every day is a first filled with thousands of firsts. “The question is,” I asked him, “Are you here?” Are you mindful of the fact that this day will never start again and that these noted differences are beautiful uniquenesses if you’re mindful of the fact? The people who this young man meets are meeting him for the very first time. Is he aware of that rarity? Is he grateful? Is he aware of the fact that his handshake will be the first handshake he’s given to his customers? That they’re hearing his voice for the very first time, or that they’re learning from him for the very first time. Is he grateful for these firsts and is he fully present to the best extent possible? He’ll never have these moments again.
He put down his phone and thought about it.
It’s easy to be elsewhere. I’m following chess in India right now. I’m answering emails from California. I’m watching t.v. programs in New York. I’m speaking to a friend in the Carolinas. And I’m planning on packing and traveling home for the weekend. But these distractions pull me away from the present. This happens all of the time:
“If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future -and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.” ― Thích Nhất Hạnh, The Miracle of Mindfulness
A life of firsts is long because, if I’m mindful, I can live an infinite number of firsts. We all can. In life, in love, in commerce, in quiet, in friendship, in service. I am again reminded not to abuse or take for granted that which will only occur one time and never again.