I can't tell you when I became ashamed of myself for stealing that moment from my friend. I don't know if it was immediate or if I realized it later. I was in such a fog of grief that I couldn't control my behevior nor could I reflect on it very well.
When I told this story to my mother eventually, she said in a tone that communicated sadness, compassion, experience and wisdom: "You'll never be able to take those moments back."
I didn't ask her to tell her own stories. I walked away from that conversation and held onto the words. It was enough to know that someone else knew the mortification I felt and believed me that it was big enough to ache for a lifetime.
Tonight at my book group that is discussing Eat, Pray, Love, we talked about the search for contentment, which the author says is the goal of yogic practice. Tim didn't like this; pointed out that Jesus would not have said this. I agree with him, if we define "content" as almost synonymous with happy. But I talked a little bit about The Spirituality of Imperfection and its advice that we must learn to live in the moment of our emotions. Beating ourselves up for feeling sad when we have so many nice things or for feeling jealous when we don't really want him anyway doesn't make us stop feeling that way. It simply adds another layer of emotion on top, which increases our chances of satisfying our own needs before the needs of others since they seem so voluminous. By being content with our emotional responses, we acknowledge them and they lose control. We can not think about them without thinking, "I'm not thinking about that," which is otherwise entirely futile as anyone can attest who has raced to get to their destination when they had to pee.
Also, when we are content with the chemical/animal responses we have to stimuli, we are experiencing the life God intended for us, instead of trying to experience the life we think we should have. As the rabbi of Porissover said, "When God sends bitterness, we should feel it."
Interestingly, when I got home I found that Baraka had posted on this same topic.
Deepening the obsession with Iceland is Eric Weiner. After spending a year traveling to nine countries in search of the good life (including Bhutan, Thailand, and Qatar), Eric Weiner, the author of The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World has this to say about Iceland:I am trying to be content with one of those moments that you can't take back right now.
If you had to choose one of those happiest places to live in that you visited, which would you choose, and why?
I’m tempted to say Bhutan, but I’m going to go with Iceland, actually. It’s just a remarkably cozy, creative, crazy place. And it’s a place that embraces failure — you can just do whatever you want, and if you fail, they might like you all the more because of it.
The capital, Reykjavik, is just sort of the perfect-sized city of about 120,000 people, so you can get anywhere you need to go by walking for 15 minutes. And they are happy, but they are also in touch with their sadness. One local musician told me: “I’m happy, but I cherish my melancholia,” which struck me as kind of profound, this notion that you can be happy, and yet, especially if you are an artist or a creative type, have this part of you that’s melancholy at the same time.
Living in Prozac Nation, that is pretty profound. The search for continuous happiness, for a life wholly without reflection, melancholy, or pain strikes me as unrealistic and, well, sad.
A French friend of mine pointed out that melancholy has a negative connotation here in the US, whereas in France “mélancolie” is considered a necessary and natural cycle of reflectiveness between life’s ups and downs, essential to experiencing it fully.
Plus, I rather like the longing in my heart for a permanence which is impossible in this life and only possible in the next. I wouldn’t want any pill to blot that yearning out.
On my way home, driving on the expressway, I was so caught up in my thoughts that although I registered that a mother was walking through the snow on the shoulder away from her hazrd-light-blinking car, getting her three-year-old daughter through by holding her up by one arm, I did not think to help them until I had passed the exit they were headed toward. On this cold night, surely they would have accepted a ride to the gas station and possibly one back to their car. I said, "I'm sorry, God," when I realized my lack of servant opportunism, which is a posture commanded by Christ. Although I took the next exit and backtracked, I was unable to help them.
Just as you can't take gaffes back, neither can you go back and pick up missed opportunities. You just have a loose end hanging off you that can't be tucked in. I am trying to be content with this fact and learn from it.