When I was a teenager I loved the song It Only Takes a Moment from the Broadway show Hello Dolly. We were a musical comedy family so having a show tune as a favorite song was not considered weird.
But why did I love that particular song? There were many other more catchy, well-known tunes from the show, but It Only Takes a Moment was intoxicating for me. It held the promise of love, which was of course the only thing that interested me at that time. But it was more than that. It was the thought that life could be different in a moment that really spoke to me.
I longed for change, adventure, and new possibilities.
I used to get a tingly feeling when I heard the song because, at that time in my life, I was thirsty for life and everything it had to offer. I was ready to step into a new reality, thrilled to think that something new, something different, something exciting was on the horizon.
Wonderful amazing things can happen in a moment that can change your life forever.
You meet that special someone, You graduate from high school.
You win the lottery. You get married. You have a baby.
You become a doctor. You move. You get offered a new job.
You pitch a no-hitter. Life can be so precious.
In my family, we have had many life-altering moments this past year. In addition to the pandemic itself, my son was ordained as a rabbi, my niece got engaged, my daughter graduated from college, I sold my company, my husband is publishing his book, my step-daughter had a new baby, my youngest child got a learner’s permit, to name a few.
Take a moment and think about those moments this year; moments that really matter, moments that moved your life forward.
But of course, there are equal numbers of sad, challenging, or horrible things that also happen in a moment, altering our lives in unimaginable ways. Fires, floods, hurricanes, and more. In my family, this year included my sweet brother dying, my dad moving into a long-term care facility, my mother experiencing life on her own for the first time in 73 years, and many dear friends losing loved ones. As Joan Didion writes in her gorgeous memoir following the death of her husband, “life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.” Ordinary moments alter life, some expanding and others contracting life as we know it. And yet, all those moments matter. And they change us into who we need to become.
In addition to those moments that arrive unexpectedly, there are moments that we choose that can also significantly impact life.
The power to change a moment is in our hands. We can choose whether to make a particularly hurtful comment, whether to accept responsibility for something we did, whether to forgive someone for the harm they caused us, whether to offer help or support to someone in need, whether to send a snarky email, whether to take a moment to thank someone or show some appreciation, whether to take the step needed to complete something. How we choose to make moments meaningful is a life-long exploration. I know that being a bit more tolerant with a customer service person can impact my day as well as theirs and choose to do so.
I know that keeping my mouth shut when talking to my kids will yield better results than talking and choose to do so. I know that calling my mom every day reduces her anxiety and I choose to do so. I know that smiling at my husband rather than asking him whether he did something makes his day and I choose to do so. (Although I will slip up regularly..) More than anything I know that breathing before reacting to any challenging situation is always effective and I choose to do so.
The Latina author Sandra Cisneros shares that “the older I get, the more I’m conscious of ways very small things can make a change in the world. Tiny little things, but the world is made up of tiny little things, isn’t it?”
She is right.
If a boat is set to travel to a particular location but goes off course by the tiniest bit, it will end up going to a completely different destination, perhaps even a totally different island! It’s the same with us. We can make those tiny but oh-so-important shifts in our attitudes, our behavior, our language, our perceptions. So while it’s helpful to stay on course, we need to constantly re-assess our own navigational systems, realigning ourselves with our goals so that our actions support rather than detract from our journeys forward. Ultimately, what matters most is how we choose to see our lives.
In the words of Rumi, “Life’s picture is constantly undergoing change. The spirit beholds a whole new world every moment.”
So no matter what life throws our way, we can make conscious choices about how to respond, and even how to perceive, what is happening and by so doing, alter our own future.
In his extraordinary book Consolations, David Whyte reminds us that our “future (is) influenced by the very way we hold the conversation of life itself; never mind any actions we might take or neglect to take. Two people, simply by looking at the future in radically different ways have completely different futures awaiting them... Even the same course of action, coming from a different way of shaping the conversation will result in a different outcome. We are shaped by our shaping of the world and are shaped again in turn… It is still our destiny our life, but the sense of satisfaction involved and the possibility of fulfilling its promise may depend upon brave participation, a willingness to hazard ourselves in a difficult world, a certain form of wild generosity with our gifts; a familiarity with our own depth, our own discovered, surprising breadth and always, a long practiced and robust vulnerability equal to what any future may offer.”
We need to weather the moments that shake us to our core and fully embrace those magical moments of growth, beauty, and opportunity but we also need to learn how to see all those moments with openness and honesty and allow them to teach us how to move forward. We are charged with living life with “brave participation, wild generosity, and robust vulnerability.” That's the island I am floating towards... Join me there...