Sunday, April 12, 2009

Perfect Moments in Life

What is this thing we call life, the gift of existence and consciousness bestowed upon us when we part company with the womb at birth? Is it like a cosmic pinball game where we are the little metal balls and bounce from event to event, moment to moment, careening off in different directions depending on the event? Does our sense of time give us a better (or worse) idea of our destinies?

I think of the present as a singularity, an instant in time. We are surfers riding the very crest of the wave of time, teetering on the edge and rushing toward some distant, unknowable future. All the moments of our lives have brought us to this very point in time, everything we have ever done has contributed to us being right here, right now, and is the springboard to whatever fate has in store for us. And where we will go in the future is about as easy to predict as exactly where a leaf is going to touch the ground when it falls from a branch 30 feet high.

Humans have an understanding of the present, as do all forms of life, but we are also saddled with a memory of the past and anticipation of the future. It's hard to be sure if other animals would have detailed memories of the past or a concept of the future - they live completely and totally in the moment. Although who's to say the blue whales or porpoises or the great apes such as gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans don't have similar understandings of time? We don't know, but humans certainly do. And, as is their wont, humans will embellish their concept of time with regret for things that happened in the past and entitlement for things that will happen in the future. Consequently humans experience time as a great mishmash of past, present and future all blurred together. Our present experience is colored with remembrances of the past and hopes, fears and desires for the future. But what about the times in our lives when the past and future drop away and we are living precisely, totally and perfectly in the present? These are some of my perfect moments in life:

I can remember as a child growing up in the Pittsburgh area one extremely frigid winter morning when I had to go on an errand or something. The sun was up but there was an icy haze to the air that filtered the sunlight and let the blue from the sky illuminate everything. It must have been single-digit temperature, and the ground was covered with a thick layer of dry snow that crunched loudly under my feet. I walked past a neighbor's house where they were drying their laundry in the clothes dryer, and the warm, moisture-laden air was being pushed outside through a vent. When the hot, moist air hit the dry, extremely cold outside air it immediately turned into massive, white billowing clouds of steam, which rolled and boiled out in fantastic, cloud-like shapes. There was also this amazing, pure, wonderfully clean fragrance of clothes and fabric softener and warmth that was just startling and incredible. The confluence of that wonderful, homey fragrance, the icy, frozen morning air and soft, blue skylight in that instant merged into a total memory experience that I haven't forgotten all these years. For an instant I was lost in those billowing, fragrant clouds of steam and I loved it.

Another time it was a summer evening at my childhood home in Pittsburgh. The weather had been very hot and uncomfortable for a while, but the day before some massive thunderstorms rolled through the area and, as often was the case, a cold front behind it brought deliciously cool, clear and dry air from Canada to our area. It was nearly nine o'clock in the evening and the sun had set about a half-hour before in the western sky. All the red and orange sunset colors had faded, leaving only a band of brilliant, ice-blue twilight on the horizon. I stood in my back yard and just gazed out at this beautiful band of blue light against the darkening sky and the inky horizon, feeling the incredibly pleasurable cool breeze and the silence of a summer evening. There was a business, I think it was a bank, in a town a mile or so away from me up the hill and they had these electronic chimes that rang out the hour. Right at 9pm as I breathlessly savored the cool blueness and serenity of the twilight the chimes started playing, and this very ethereal, dreamlike and pastoral music drifted in on the breeze from a distance like a whispered vesper prayer. The music danced in and out on the breeze, fading slightly and becoming louder at random, and I can remember being utterly transfixed and mesmerized by this perfect nexus of sight, sound and feeling. The past and future did not exist for me - there was only this moment of complete, total peace. I don't think I have ever had such a feeling of happiness and contentment in all my life. It only lasted a minute or two, but it was transcendent in its beauty and I will never forget it.

Today being Easter Sunday 2009, I invariably think back nearly fifty years to another Easter Sunday when I was in third grade. Easter was a movable feast and in western Pennsylvania was always at the mercy of the weather - sometimes it could be decent but often enough it was cold, blustery and rainy, even snowy. But that particular Easter occurred late in the spring and the weather was gloriously clear, warm and sunny. The gentle March weather that year had resulted in the pear tree in our back yard being absolutely loaded down with hundreds if not thousands of fragrant white blossoms. I can remember looking up and seeing golden sunlight filtering down through this incredible canopy of white flowers, and the soft warm breezes touching my face really did feel like a gentle kiss. I was dressed up in my finest Easter outfit and I just felt so perfect and clean and special, almost like being reborn. If there is a heaven it must be an awful lot like that sunny Easter Sunday morning in my backyard, all pure radiance and clean light and white blossoms. Again a moment of complete peace and contentment, something all the intervening years and events cannot possibly dampen.

These are just some of the moments that have made my life so rich and worth remembering for me. Please take a moment to remember one or more of YOUR special moments in life, when everything was perfect at that very moment and you didn't want anything more or less than what you had right then. Remember them, the precious, perfect moments that make up a life.

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