Sunday, October 3, 2010
I've been thinking about moments in my life ever since, and I've decided that among the hundreds that stand out, there are four I'd like to write about: four moments when I felt that everything was perfect.
I hope this post doesn't make the Pretentiousness Hall of Fame, but everything that follows is true. The first of these moments, chronologically speaking, came when I was lying beneath a coconut palm on a beach in Bali reading the The Journal of Eugene Delacroix, a book I can't recommend highly enough. This was maybe 25 years ago. I suddenly saw myself as a momentary intersection (so to speak) between Bali, America, my experience of the 20th Century, and the life and insight of a 19th-century Parisian Romantic painter. I actually felt a little chemical buzz, and then I realized that everything was perfect, and that this intersection might never have existed before.
Numbers two and three happened in the ruins of Angkor. The first two times I went, I was guided by a trio of schoolgirls who ran over to the ruins every day at the moment their school let out, around noon. They gave me the monkey's tour, climbing everything, exploring every temple and shrine. They were about 10, 11, and 12 years old, all wearing shorts much-laundered Western T-shirts with Disney characters on them. At one point, they were showing me a wall carved with bas-reliefs of apsaras, female angels that are clearly of Indian-Hindu origin. They all held their hands in highly stylized positions. I asked the girls what the angels were doing, and the oldest answered, "Dance." "What dance?" I asked. Without a moment's hesitation, the three girls began to dance in front of this 9th-century wall in their very 20-century T-shirts: little girls bearing the images of Donald and Goofy, doing the precise dance that was carved in the stone 1100 years earlier.
The next day, they took me into a shrine inside the Wat itself: stone floor; very high, smoke-blackened ceiling; a 20-foot standing Buddha; a Buddhist nun in her 80s (probably) chanting to herself and putting sticks of incense into an urn full of sand; and a girl of 11 or 12 from the village, peeling back unopened lotus buds to create a very graceful, tapering flower to put at the Buddha's feet. There was only one wall, the one against which the Buddha was standing. The other three walls were open. And it started to rain. It rained as hard as I've ever experienced in my life, and in the middle of it I heard a sort of clanking. Out of the rain about 30 feet away came a water buffalo, followed by two more, all of them driven by a kid with a soaking cloth knotted around his hips, exactly as he would have driven them in 900 AD. And once again I felt an actual physical buzzing. The buffalo disappeared back into the rain and I looked around the shrine, and the nun was watching me with considerable concentration. The moment our eyes met, she gave me an enormous smile. I felt like I'd been hit in the midsection with a soft pillow. Total, all-embracing magic.
And finally (I know this is waaayyy long), my wedding. My wife and I married purely as a favor to my mother, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and wanted us to "legitimize" our relationship. So I went through the motions thinking how swell and enlightened I was to do this for good old Mom. And then the music started and our Labrador, who was acting as the flower girl, trotted down the aisle with a wreath of flowers around her neck and sat at my feet. I turned around to face the back of the room as my wife came through the door. The moment our eyes met, I burst into tears. I stood there blubbering in front of everyone. My mother laughed. Then she started to cry.
I feel lucky to have had four moments with such a shine to them.
Tim -- Sunday
at 12:39 AM