Letters of Life


A simple, old clock face.

“In a person’s lifetime there may be not more than half a dozen occasions that he can look back to in the certain knowledge that right then, at that moment, there was room for nothing but happiness in his heart.” — Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, American author (1908–2006), Cheaper by the Dozen

In the light of how the online world has accelerated the notion of speed—e-mail (vs the mailman), online messaging (made speedier through liberal use of abbreviations and smileys), instant validation (a click of the ‘Like’ button equals instant gratification), I am treasuring the slowness that the real world offers more and more.

In the mid-fourteenth century, a moment described a very brief portion of time, an instant, and had its roots in the Latin momentum, or “moving power.” A hundred years later, the word gained a sense of importance, or weight.

A moment in time is a snapshot the brain takes, either visually, emotionally, spiritually, or everything together at once. And music, which captures moments beautifully and wordlessly, has moving power and can gently pull free the dangling ringlets of pink and blue and white ribbons neatly binding up our old memories, setting loose moments of blinding bright mornings, lunch by aquamarine waters, old sunlit afternoons, unforgettable meals, conversation, love, of blessed solitude, and the stuff that string our life’s moments together.

Those moments can’t be found on Facebook. Or Twitter. If you know exceptions, please comment. I accede the possibility that email can afford memorable moments for there are those among us who write beautifully or well or use the medium to its fullest extent. My inbox has a few electronic notes–how can they be called letters?–that have cheered up a miserable self.

On Flickr, the astonishing images captured by talented visual artists and photographers can bring a sense of amazement and wonder, but those moments are just not on par with the moments of real time. In other words, the real moments.

Moments can be contrived, manipulated; that’s what party planners and other creative types do, they’re all in the business of creating the moment.

Everyone has created a moment or two in their lives, but the ones that take us by surprise, the ones that aren’t artfully arranged or engineered, these often are the ones we remember long after the smiles (or tears) are gone.

That’s why I love surprises.

“I thought of how every day each of us experiences a few little moments that have just a bit more resonance than other moments—we hear a word that sticks in our mind—or maybe we have a small experience that pulls us out of ourselves, if only briefly—we share a hotel elevator with a bride in her veils, say, or a stranger gives us a piece of bread to feed to the mallard ducks in the lagoon; a small child starts a conversation with us in a Dairy Queen—or we have an episode like the one I had with the M&M cars back at the Husky station.

And if we were to collect these small moments in a notebook and save them over a period of months we would see certain trends emerge from our collection—certain voices would emerge that have been trying to speak through us. We would realize that we have been having another life altogether; one we didn’t even know was going on inside us. And maybe this other life is more important than the one we think of as being real—this clunky day-to-day world of furniture and noise and metal. So just maybe it is these small silent moments which are the true story-making events of our lives.”  –Douglas Copland, Canadian author whose first work Generation X: Tales of an Accelerated Culture popularized the term Gen X.

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