The present is the point at which the past is recollected and the future anticipated.
It is often urged on us to live in the now. That is, to live in the present. It is thought that this involves forgetting the past and avoiding paying attention to the future, for both the past and the future make us anxious. Instead, it is advised that one exist in the moment, what is happening right now.
This is a misunderstanding. For someone who does not recollect himself in the moment, or anticipate the future in the moment, is living nowhere rather than in the moment. It is true that he may be free of anxiety because he is not remembering the past or anticipating the future, but then animals live this sort of anxiety-free life. But to live as a human being means to live in relation to the past and the future.
And even when, for a time, he has this sort of anxiety-free existence (as, for instance, when he loses himself in a hobby in his basement, or becomes lost in the excitement of a championship game) he is not really experiencing the anxiety-free life of the animal; for, at any moment, the spell might be broken and his distinctively human recollection of the past and anticipation of the future will come rushing back in. He will suddenly find himself existing somewhere rather than nowhere, with all the anxiety that entails.
Truly living in the present is the most difficult of art forms. It means recollecting the past and anticipating the future in such a way that it has immediate decisive significance. Man acts in the now, but only as a bridge uniting his recollection of the past with his anticipation of the future. It is an art form because no science of living in such a manner is possible; for science of its nature abstracts from the decisive significance of the present in relation to the past and future.
Kierkegaard, in the Concluding Unscientific Postscript, takes monks to task for their distinctive dress. The mistake, according to Kierkegaard, is that it is a false attempt to represent the inner determination of the spirit via an outward material sign. But the "knight of the spirit" is not so easily recognized; in fact, he is not immediately recognizable at all, for the inner determination of spirit may be married to any outward material circumstance.
SK is wrong, I think, in his understanding of the meaning of the monk's simple robe. For us, the robe is simply a witness to the vow the monk has made to a life of simplicity in the following of Christ. The inner state of his spirit is something else entirely; it may wax and wane in its dedication to that vow. It is similar to the ring of the married man, which symbolizes a vow the man has made, not the state of his success in living up to it.
More to the point of this post, for the monk the robe is a continual reminder of his vow, and his uniting of the past with the future in his vow of the simple life for Christ. It is an aid to the art of living in the moment, of giving every moment its due not by forgetting the past and the future, but by a unification of the past with the future in a blossoming of immediate decisive action.
For most of us, such immediately decisive action occurs only rarely. We make a decision on which college to attend, or to propose to our girlfriend, or to move to another city. In such moments we feel truly alive, as we see our past come together in a decisive determination of our future. And we are right, for in such moments we are truly living as distinctively human beings.
The task for our lives is to make more of the unfolding present alive with such decisiveness. This does not mean continually making the decision to move to another city; for that would only rob any particular decision of its decisiveness for the future. No, like the monk, we must find a way to unite all our actions, even the small ones, in the present and in light of the past and in anticipation of the future.