“Oh if life were made of moments-
Even now and then a bad one-
But if life were only moments,
Then you’d never know you had one.”—The Baker’s Wife, Into the Woods
Walking with the girls tonight, I had one of those lightening moments, suspending me in its hyper reality for the briefest time. The girls rode their scooters up ahead of me, lit horizontally by the sun setting behind us. Between myself and the girls, a newly paved path rolled, comfortable and certain in its relative newness. On either side, green grass- so vibrant, especially in contrast to the blackness of the asphalt path-already thick and lush from the dutiful and probably bloodied, calloused hands of some landscaper, seems to insist on spring’s arrival-which, for the record, is fine by me. Adolescent trees mark the age of the immaculately coiffed subdivision, thankfully old enough for leaves to endow the wind with a fair bit of rustling voice. But on this evening, the wind is not in a hurry. It lacks the urgency of a storm front; now that we’re on the western end of the suburbs, this weird transition zone where sprawl meets small town, the weather changes show their faces pretty clearly. Together, everything moves and suspends, simultaneously, at this singular point in time.
I have the urge- or rather, the conditioned response- to quickly scroll through my phone to take a picture, worried that I wouldn’t remember this exact moment, that I need to preserve and share it or it never happened (i.e., if a tree falls and it doesn’t get put on Vine/FB/ Instagram, did it even happen?). I don’t know if it is laziness, anxiety about missing the moment altogether or what, but my hand never makes it to my pocket. My phone remains undisturbed. I lift my eyes. I walk forward.
I breathe it in and realize I am happy.
For just a breath.
Then wafting, ever so quietly, the doubts weave themselves back in through my consciousness: “Are you sure you’re happy? What is a city girl like you doing being happy here?” Then, more insistent and cruel: “This will never last, you know. It never does. Something awful will happen, it’s inevitable.” In an instant, all of the specific worries of my life- kids, my husband, employment, health, career, finances, and oh my lord, will I ever get this house unpacked or will we just live out of bins and chaos indefinitely- come tumbling with reckless abandon, washing over this lovely, peaceful moment.
Good Lord, those voices are LOUD. At this point, the cerebral chatter devolves into a cacophony of bickering. I ignore it as best I can; it’s background noise. So the moment’s gone, and I didn’t record it- not for posterity, for me. I’m at a place right now where I don’t trust I can remember anything without recording it, particularly these small, deep moments of joy. I manage to remember the difficult/ painful/ angsty ones, and I never have any trouble feeling at times like those times dominate my timeline.
Maybe, in actuality, it’s less about remembering these moments of joy and more about sustaining them. After all, as I just said, I don’t have trouble recalling the string of painful times littering the chronology of my life. I’m certainly not holding my phone up to them, recording them to play them back in some weird, masochistic ritual. In my awkward, human animal way, I’m trying to materialize my experiences to touch them, smell them, see them, feel them just a little bit longer. But in order to make them tangible in the form of video and picture means that I miss the actual experience altogether; the camera casts me as an outside observer trying to capture a fleeting moment, and shoves me out of participating in my own life, even those moments of happiness. The camera displaces me; it experiences the event, while I remember recording the event. For me, the memory becomes about recording something, and no longer about the actual something.
But aside from this complex and complicated 21st century relationship between me and technology, I also realize that moments of joy, of clarity, of happiness are so characteristic because of what they are not, which are the very places they originate: pain, struggle, confusion, sadness. No, I won’t always feel elation, nor will I be stuck in the abyss of despair. Mostly, I will reside in the middle somewhere, working to make things better, hoping to avoid the worst. But there are no guarantees, and sometimes I think that’s simply an uncomfortable place to be.
For a moment.
But the next moment…?
Oh, right- that’s life.