“So just maybe it is these small silent moments which are the true story making events of our lives…”
I was snowshoeing last January along the trail leading to Helen McKenzie Lake on Vancouver Island. The trail winds its way through an evergreen forest, past small ponds and open sub-alpine meadows. An arctic high pressure ridge had settled over the area. It was well below zero- cold and clear and everywhere, a winter wonderland.
I was plodding my way through a shaded forest section when I came to a place where a single column of sunlight was shining down from the tops of the trees all the way to the ground. I paused there for a moment looking up. Just then, a flow of ice crystals sloughed off a high branch and drifted down through the air.
The crystals were so fine, that they floated down in slow motion- almost invisible until reaching the column of sunlight and then suddenly they were ablaze. An instant and dazzling illumination as millions of tiny diamond facets formed this brilliant cascade of crystalline white light against a backdrop of evergreen and golden sun rays.
Everything went very quiet and very still. For a few moments, it seemed as though nothing else existed except this drifting fall of glittering light in a silent forest.
Such a simple thing. Some snow falling off a branch and yet in that moment it seemed like one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.
Sometimes, maybe ‘everything’ can be seen in a single snow crystal…
Another such moment happened when I was in my early 20’s and living in a second floor apartment above the corner of Jervis and Pendrell in Vancouver’s west end. It was in the early spring. The sun was out, the sky was a vivid blue, a northwest breeze was blowing and all the cherry trees were festooned with pink blossoms. They looked otherworldly –like I was looking out the window into a living Renoir painting. Looking out into streets lined with cotton candy pink.
I was standing with coffee in hand looking out the window idly watching a middle-aged woman walking east on Jervis street. She was wearing a long dark coat and carrying a full bag of groceries in each hand.
A sudden gust of wind blew through the trees just as she was passing beneath and a great shower of pink petals came cascading down-falling and whirling all around her. She stopped. She put down her burden and then just stood there with her arms raised up and wide open. Her face upturned to the shining sky as the fall of flower petals filled the air all around her. She gazed upwards with this radiant, beautiful smile that lit up her whole face like that of child. Suddenly stopping the world for this moment- being filled with the wonder, the sheer joy of just being alive. Here, now- in this life, in this world. This single moment. I have never forgotten that. And even though it was over 40 years ago, I can remember that sight as clearly as if I was just witnessing it again.
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour…”
(William Blake from ‘Augeries of Innocence’)
And maybe, seen in just the right way- we can also experience all that in the sight of just a single cherry blossom.
Another such remembered moment was of my daughter Kira and the fern circle. How a morning walk through a grove of old growth forest led to a moment that I’ll remember the rest of my days. She was about four at the time, embodying the archetype of the ‘Wonder child’ and she certainly was that.
As the three of us ambled along, Kira suddenly jumped into the open middle of a large circle of ferns- scrunched right down into a ball and then called, “Look, I’m a sunflower!” And she was! With her shining crown of blonde hair, she was scrunched right down in the middle of that green fern circle and she became exactly that right before our eyes- a sunflower. Who ever would have thought. She showed me that such a magical thing was possible. Just like that.
A few months ago, I was startled awake from a vivid dream. Jolted upright with a gasp of ‘Omigod!’
I had been standing on a beach near the edge of the water and it was very calm. I saw what at first looked like an eagle taking a steep dive at something in the water- a spot where there was a mysterious rising of white mist out of the blue stillness.
Then I realized it was a huge osprey. It hit the water with a great splash, extended talons reaching deep into the middle of that patch of white mist and then it lifted off again. I couldn’t tell what it had grabbed- but I could see it was clutching something.
“It’s an osprey!” I blurted out to whoever else was there, if in fact there was anyone else there. And then this great bird, using the momentum of it’s dive to soar high off the water’s surface then folded it’s wings in a bit, paused in mid-air and shook out all its feathers to shed the water from its plunge. And in that split second with the sun behind – the whole bird suddenly looked as though it were made of a brilliant, shimmering crystal- this shining burst of light and water drops against vivid blue sky background. In my dream,I literally gasped an, ‘OMIGOD!!’ of wonder at the sight of it- and that was what woke me up.
That single image was branded deep into the otherwise blank canvas of my waking consciousness. It was so clear, so vividly real. I was standing on that shore, I could feel the sand cool under my feet. I could feel the sun warm on my face and in that moment when I woke up, I could still see that great shimmering bird- I could still see that crystalline shower of water light suspended high in the sky.
And if I close my eyes and ask, I can still see it.
As with the falling ice crystals and the woman being showered with cherry blossom petals, I knew that also with this dream that I was experiencing one of those special moments- one of those ‘small silent moments’ that Douglas Coupland speaks of.
Perhaps as he speculates, there indeed are qualities to these ‘small silent moments’ that gradually infuse and inform the deeper stories of our journey through this life. That there is a particular kind of energy, something else present that has some unique and enduring qualities that causes us to remember these things.
It sometimes feels to me that there is a kind of catalyst, some kind of alchemy there that somehow transforms the base metals of a particular experience into a kind of ‘gold’ which then settles deep beneath the surface gravel of our everyday awareness.
Perhaps now out of sight of our ‘normal’ everyday consciousness- but they are not gone, are they? There seem to be things that we try to remember, that we must make that effort not to forget and then there are other things that just seem to be remembered for us through some unknown means. As if these special moments become part of a deeper story is somehow remembered for us. And we just need to go in search of it in the places where it is patiently waiting for us to show up.
And I think we all long to be able to share our deepest story with at least one other person in our lives. Someone who can really hear our story.
“Much of the illness of our time is that people have no place to tell their story.” Carl Jung
And if Jung is right and many ‘people have no place to tell their story,’ how long will it be before people begin to forget their own deeper stories? How long will we even be able to remember the language to be able to share such stories?