I collect moments because I am fully aware of my inability to sustain any of these feeling for an extended period of time. There are five types of moments that I think are most important to me.
1) Transcendent Moments – I search for moments outside myself when I feel connected to something incomprehensibly big whose memory holds the promise of another such moment to come. The last moment like this was just last week in the Alhambra in moonlight. Because there are no images of God in Islam, the architecture and design are made to represent something eternal and peaceful, and I was deeply moved by it – not unlike how I have left in countless Buddhist temples. The first one of these moments I remember was on Good Friday in a dark church after the last candle had been blown out and silence reigned.
2) Peak Moments – The peak moments of my life that are strongest in my mind’s eye involve me, and usually my husband, climbing or bicycling to the top of some hill or mountain. There is nothing like it due to the view and the endorphins earned from the physical effort. The latest peak moment was when we climbed to the top of a peak in the High Tatra mountains in Slovakia last summer. The whole hike was exciting because the trail put the hiker right out there on the edge of the mountain and the top afforded spectacular views of the valley below and the mountain range ahead.
3) Cathartic Moments – I have had a happy life, but there is so much sorrow in this world that I think it would be inhuman not to share in this. There is nothing like the ache felt after a good cry. Stories have been making me cry since I was quite young to the consternation of my family. In fact, when I was 8 years old, I wasn’t allowed to watch the news because it made me cry frequently. Some of the best cathartic books for me include: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, Washington Square by Henry James, and Beloved by Toni Morrison. I vividly remember going to see Jean de Florette in college with some friends and the ending is so tragic that I just started sobbing in the theater and embarrassed most of my new friends while making one friend develop a crush on me. Sometimes life is just as tragic in that beautiful way of literature or film. As an example, A Long Way Gone by Ismael Beah is an autobiography of his experience as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. I view crying as a luxury – there are many people who have lost the ability to cry due to any number of reasons including the need to survive and that makes me want to cry.
4) Cross-Cultural Moments – I love to hear people’s stories or to have conversations with people from other cultures. In these moments, we either learn something new or find something that is the same. While travelling this happens sometimes, but it happens more when you live overseas. In China, eating dinner with Chinese people is fascinating, and mostly delicious. Ordering and arguing about the bill at the end is a ritual. The principles I was able to understand are that they need to order at least twice as much food as could be eaten, and you are supposed to eat while it’s hot. A more elusive principle is how to balance foods with hot and cold properties – a feng shui type of philosophy about food. Once we went to a small town with a colleague while living in China to visit her father’s li-zhi (lee-chee) farm and her aunt and uncle invited us out to a restaurant and ordered lots of different dishes, even though they had already eaten, just to see which of their favorites that foreigners could. Luckily, we were able to eat everything, but it was like being at a interview in which the questions were all translated. The thing that is the same for me is that my mother feeds people twice as much food as they could eat. My husband won my mom over by eating her food with gusto when he first met my parents.
5) Wondering Moments – I love it when I think about something in a different way suddenly. I remember wondering what animals think when I was 7 years old. I still don’t know about that one, but the wondering can be about my studies, the world, my job, or my life. Yesterday, I started to wonder what an expat really is. As a teacher in a foreign country, I am considered an expat. However, the lady who cleans our house and works at a public park in our town is considered a foreign worker even though she plans to go home to Sri Lanka. Aren’t be really both expats? It seems like a caste like distinction.
What kind of moments do you live for?
Janet Graham – United Arab Emirates