It happened again this morning. I had taken the Mighty Belle out for our morning walk to the park, and something caught her eye – something that could have been squirrel shaped and was therefore worthy of chasing. This made her very, very happy, because for her, nothing exists that is better than the chasing of a squirrel. Not even dinner.
This morning was pretty good for me, too. Finally, the weather was something resembling spring, and even though there was a chill in the air left over from Monday’s four inch snowfall (which, thankfully, is almost melted already), the sun was shining and there was great promise of a lovely day to come. The park grass was greening, and the birds were singing. We had the park to ourselves for the moment, so there was sound (always, in the city, there is sound) but it was a relaxed, expectant sound; no honking, no raised voices, no thumping car stereos, just the distant rumble of traffic and lots of glorious birdsong, the jangle of Belle’s tags. I had ditched my winter coat for a much lighter jacket; optimistic, perhaps, but a necessary vote of confidence in the day – days – to come.
So Belle had “treed” her squirrel shaped thing (I’m not even sure there was a critter involved, but that wasn’t the point – it’s all about the chase!) and was loping around, sniffing at the ground, at trees, with a big goofy grin on her face. I decided to call her back to me – not that she was ranging too far, but the idea of a romp in the park is that she get exercise, and she loves, loves, loves to run, but usually has to have a reason to do more than gambol. So I called her back to me – and that’s when it happened.
The perfect moment. That moment when she came flying back to me, skimming across the turf, running as fast as she could, flat out, and her tongue was lolling and her smile was huge, and her eyes were focused on me, and she was running back to ME, because she loves, loves, loves me. Even better than chasing squirrels. And for one, fleeting, glorious moment, life was perfect.
Perfect moments. I wasn’t always aware of them, I’m afraid. Years ago, it seemed like I was walking on the slope of a huge, dark abyss. I was unable to climb out of a darkness that spread out before me, that made my steps, my progress in life, seem futile and bleak. Youth was behind me, old age was looming, responsibilities anchored me firmly in place and yet life was in continuous motion that was slowly (ans sometimes not so slowly) slipping out of my control. The world was in turmoil, mankind seemed destined for a triumph of crass greed, political machinations, disconnect and suffering beyond my ability to alleviate, save for frantically trying to ensure my family was always, always, happy and content – yet those times seemed to be so very sporadic and occasional.
Then one brutally cold winter’s night, I had to slip outside for a moment to clear my head. I’m not sure what drove me out into the bitter cold – internalizing the 10:00 p.m. news, perhaps, or a particularly hateful exchange witnessed on Facebook, perhaps the inability to grasp a task set before me or a scary shift in the family dynamic (or possibly all these things) – but I needed some quiet, some calm. So I bundled up and headed into the frigid darkness of my own backyard to disconnect for a bit, and to just be quiet.
What I walked into was a wonderland. The snow that had fallen earlier in the day had crystallized into an amazing, sparkling landscape, prisms twinkling under the faint alley lights like a frozen fairy land, with some fat flakes still lazily falling from their perches on power lines and tree branches. The air was still, and hushed, as if holding in abeyance everything except this place, this “now”. I gasped, amazed at what I was seeing, and the cold deftly whisked my breath away, replacing it with the cleanest, purest air imaginable. It was at that point, in the dark, in the cold, as a witness to such intense beauty, that I realized I was standing in a perfect moment. A single moment when life, right then, right there, is perfect. A moment when the heart swells because it seems like it simply cannot hold everything it has been given. For just a moment, before everything else rushes back in and reminds us that we have worries and cares, for one sparkling, intimate, isolated moment, life is perfect.
It hit me, then, that perhaps the reason why happiness always seems to be just outside of our grasp, regardless of how hard we pursue it, is simply because our focus is wrong. That life, with all its complexity, cannot sustain unabated happiness for too long, and in the assumption that it should, we get caught up in despair and a sense of futility, concluding instead that we will never be truly happy. Either/or, black/white, have/have not.
Instead, we need to recognize that life is full of perfection – but that it is contained in moments, rather than in hours, days, years, lifetimes. That at any given time, we may find ourselves part of a perfect moment, and it is these moments of gratuitous joy that define our lives, not the things we own or the status we have gained or lost, or never had a chance of at all. And these moments are equal opportunity moments – they come to those who have eyes to see them, senses to feel them, regardless of circumstance or wealth or influence, unbeholden to place or advantage or entitlement.
You know them, these perfect moments: waking up to birdsong, the smell of freshly baked bread wafting into an open car window as you drive, or the smell of freshly cut grass. The soft light caressing your daughter’s cheek as she works on homework at the dining room table, or the equally soft breathing of your children as they sleep with abandon, vulnerable, after a day of playing at the zoo, or the park, or the State Fair, or at Grandma and Grandpa’s during the family 4th of July picnic. The unexpected compliment received, or given. The joyful shock of recognition when a long forgotten but beloved song plays on the radio. A rookie’s first home run in the Majors. Actually seeing a shooting star, or being far enough from the city lights to see the cacophony of stars overhead in the night sky. The feel of lush grass – or squishy mud – between your toes.
You can try to manufacture these perfect moments, but most often they come unbidden, unlooked for, or at least spontaneously. And the best thing is – the more you do look for them, the easier they are to recognize. Then you understand that life truly is a miracle, meted out in perfect moments that may occur anytime, anywhere, unannounced, fleeting, but always, always possible. Not sustainable, no, but also not finite. And so often, so simple. Sometimes as simple as a big, goofy dog, flying, flying towards you across the soft muddy turf of spring, with joy and love in her eyes.