I’m starting to think of life as a series of moments. Moments that chase us and those that find us. Some are revisited with fondness and amusement, reflecting on all that has been lived and endured, loved and let gone, experienced and appreciated. Moments that have a rhythm to them, in their re-occurrences, tuned perfectly to our weaknesses. Moments that change the course of our lives, and moments that soothe us in times of crises. And when there is a burning in your heart, breathe in, breathe out, let the moment pass. I whisper the mantra, my eyes shut, my palms open, my face tipped towards God.
In this moment I’m wrapped in a chequered shawl, hidden behind a large Victorian window. I can see the world, but the world, it won’t see me. I know I’ll soon forget this one. I’ve lived too many similar to these, causing them to slam into each other, remembered collectively as ‘that time I was writing in a cafe’.
But some moments are distinct, some moments refuse to diminish with age. They strengthen with time, forever vivid and bursting with colours. One such moment was close to shore. We had stayed too long by the beach and it was dark before we knew it. We had barely managed to find the beach in daylight, our chances of finding our way back in the dark were slim. And the sporadic but loud barking of stray dogs didn’t help our nerves. We ended up facing a wall, literally, and knew that the only way out was to climb over it.
I remember us both standing side by side, enveloped by the night. It must have been a silently unanimous decision, for me to go first. We were communicating in whispers, afraid to get caught, unsure if we were trespassing. The wall wasn’t high, and I had enough strength to lift my body weight. It was swift. I grabbed the edges, was hoisted up, pulled my legs over to the other side and jumped off. And here’s the moment that has stayed with me – the few seconds between my jumping off, and my friend joining me. I stood facing the wall, my eyes getting used to the moonlight, the breeze causing the leaves to rustle and carrying with it the distinct sound and scent of sea. What was taking so long?
In that moment, I felt fear. Fear of losing, fear of scorn, fear of moving on. I felt the fear of being left behind, the fear of being alone. The fear of not knowing what’s next. I felt the fear of darkness, of wolf like dogs that tore through skin and muscle, of men with animal instincts. I felt loneliness. And I realised that regardless of the number of friends I have or how involved my parents are in my life, I’ll always be alone. Because this is the secret of life, only you can protect yourself, others can only try.
Some moments are lighter. Like when I cracked a joke so funny, my dad had to stop the car because he was laughing too hard. I now pretend that the joke was intentional. And then there are moments of pride. Like the time I watched my sister deliver a motivational speech to her peers. Or when I introduce my brother to my friends. And moments of happiness, when I spend a whole day at a bookshop, when I meet a friend after weeks of trying to pencil each other in or when Nadim calls. There are moments of solitude and some moments are bitter, petty, best left unrecorded.
Some moments are very telling. A moment of clarity, you would call it. Like when I fell down the stairs and broke my elbow. I was seven, on my summer break. It was siesta time at our ancestral home and I was out in the garden. It was hot but I had found a secret spot, shaded by trees. The stairs were missing the banister. The only other person awake was the maid’s younger sister. She asked to play with me, she begged and pleaded. But I shrugged her away, asked her not to come near me. She went away. I was engrossed in a make-believe game, sorting two of every kind of leaf I had plucked from the bushes around me. The fall was sudden, and painful.
When I came back home with a fractured elbow in a plaster, there was soup and ice cream waiting for me. My grandmother was admonishing the maid’s sister and asking her never to come near me again. We were in the dining room and she was standing behind the kitchen door, aghast at the sight of my arm. She was asked to apologise and she did, her eyes screaming with fear. I refused to accept it, dismissing her by turning away. Instead, I nudged my grandmother for another spoonful of soup, leaning forward to be fed, my eyes glued to the TV. This is a moment that haunts me. Why did I frown? Why did I allow her to be scolded? And why did she not protest her innocence? She was no where near me when I fell, she only came running when she heard my cries. This is a moment of shame, a moment of embarrassment for the child I was. But it’s also a moment of realisation. Of how lucky I’m to be born to my family. That I could very easily have been the one standing by the door, falsely accused. She probably had the same dreams as me, the same desires, the same work ethic and talent. I don’t know why I have what I have, but this moment has taught me to be grateful for the opportunities and for all the love. Did she want to be a writer too? I can only wonder.
Charles Bukowski has written of moments such:
Some moments are nice,
some are nicer,
some are even worth
Which brings me to moments of inspiration. Reading an erratically arranged sentence. Staring at a Monet painting till the world around me blurs to become part of the canvas. Overhearing a child narrate a story to her mother and learning a thing or two about past-continuous tenses. Coming across the perfect melody to hum to, as I pick that pencil and start defining the cheekbones. Or when I discover an artist who has given new meaning to photography.
Though moments usually happened to me, there have been some which I’ve waited for, hoped and prayed for. Some turned out better than I was expecting them to, like when I was walking down Madison Avenue last year, repeating to myself ‘I’m here. I’m here. I’m finally here.’ But some don’t meet our expectations, we have yearned for them too long, glorifying their capabilities, setting ourselves up for disappointments. But one thing is for sure – the underlying truth to moments lie in their inevitability. There is no avoiding them. They will happen when they are meant to.
But we could be prepared for them. We could be open to them and we could learn from them. We could create circumstances to repeat the happy ones and to jump over those shaped with miserableness. And if we tried hard enough we could change the very nature of these moments.
We could learn to acknowledge the moments that we usually take for granted, making space for gratefulness in our lives. We could allow moments of despondency to motivate us. We could tell ourselves that nothing would mean anything, if our lives were not of some use to others. We could refuse to be disappointed. We could stop expecting and start accepting. We could carpe diem. We could forgive, we could let go of the grudges. We could sit back and marvel at all that is left to uncover. We could finally realise that only we have control over our lives and that all else is noise.