Special Moments, in Recollection

This is a place to post a recollection of a personal experience of special meaning, of self-reflection. Perhaps of love, of adventure, of wonder, of something that is a part of who you are.

Last night I read through an evocative thread (Looking for a friend) and then listened to an evocative post by TheGoban in the music thread (#524 in Music sharing thread. Links only. No chit chat), and together they triggered a very special memory.

I was 25, hiking up a bald mountain, not far from the peak, when I encountered a woman about my age going the other way. She stopped to ask where the next spring was, and we fell quite naturally into conversation. Buffeted by a fierce wind, we decided to take shelter and stepped off the trail and around a large boulder. We sat down, legs stretched out on a smooth slab with the boulder to our backs and a wonderful vista in front of us. Looking back, I am struck by her boldness. We were alone, probably with no one around for many miles. But the outdoors, unlike today, was a remarkably safe place 40 years ago, and hikers then felt a real camaraderie.

The conversation continued for more than an hour, punctuated by our excited observation of some Peregrine falcons in the distance (I lent her my miniature binoculars that I always carried on my hikes). We talked about everything, our lives and aspirations (of course), our likes and dislikes, and our hiking, waxing philosophic about our strong desire to see what was just over the next hill.

Do you know that moment when something pleasant must end, though you want it to continue forever? The shadows were rising, and we both needed to hit the trail again. And here I failed to be bold. Not out of shyness, I think, but more from a disinclination to spoil a pristine moment of spiritual connection. We felt a tremendous mutual attraction, but remained silent. Our awkward farewells lie beyond recollection. I did try to look her up, but that was difficult in the days before the internet. I never saw nor heard of her again.

This was one of only two occasions when I felt “love at first sight.” It was not misspelled as the cynics claim. We were clad from head to foot in rugged hiking clothes and loaded packs, revealing nothing. We were bare only in spirit. I sometimes unpack this memory and look at it, wondering (of course) what might have been. But I am not one to carry around regrets, so I like to think that it was meant to be what it is: a special moment of illumination.

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So, now that I am a bit more free from work, I could add my own little “special moment of illumination”, though it is not as interesting as stories go, to be honest, and it is a bit absurd/funny (at least to me).

The story happens more than 20 years ago. I am around 13 years old and I am returning home from school, so the time is 14:10 in midday and I was thinking about having to eat fast and then grabbing my “English lessons folder” and run to the English school. While my concsious mind was pre-occupied with such mundane things, the rest of my head kept having fun, so as I was passing by the garden door of a neighbouring house I saw something with the edge of my eyes (I am wearing glasses, so it was blurry).

Right next to the door, on a window-lile ledge, there was something and my mind ( it works in multi-threads :stuck_out_tongue: ) went:
“oh, hey, that’s a nice statue of a cat, the neighbour got”
“yeaaaah, niiiice”
“cool statue”
“wonder where they found it”

All these took a quarter of a second and made such an impression that I stopped my thoughts about “what I was going to do for the day” and I remember actually saying to myself “oh, nice statue … wait WHAT? a cat STATUE?!?” and I turned around fast to see what’s up.

Of course it was not a statue, but an actual living cat, which got scared from my sudden move and run away. Ok, that was silly, I thought … “cat statue, what a moron” … so far the story may seem totally stupid/boring and without any meaning, but when I got out of my house at 14:45 to go to the English lessons, that particular cat was dead, on the street, run over by a car.

That was very bad.
What is worse is that my mind instantly got to the decision that I might be at fault.
Needless to say that this was not a thought I liked at all, so I started picking at it.

Had I not noticed the cat and not scared it, it’s whole life in the past 30 minutes (within which it died), would have changed radically. Every single action - or lack thereof - has consequences, so in a way, those 5 seconds in which I scared it away, played a large part in the death of the cat, but so did every other second in that time.
I was not responsible for all the other decisions the cat had made, but I sure set the process rolling, at least for a good fraction of that small timeframe which the cat had to live until it was run over.

Anyway, I came to the decision that time is quite fickle and that we could be dead/injured or have any other life-altering situation occur to us at any given moment, therefore three important things in life derive from that:
a) Any long-term plans must include the posibility of me not being able to finish them, for various reasons (predictable or not).
b) Any thoughts like “if I had done this or chosen that, then I would have now been happier/richer/better/whatever” are total non-sense. Even deciding to spend an extra 10 seconds to comb your hair in the morning could mean that you are just on time to participate in a fatal crossroad car crash or you are 10 seconds early for that and you are quite fine.
c) Every decision matters and changes your life in someway. Even writting this post or sitting in a chair lazing off in the sun, changes your life. A lot of people like to say “this and that happened” and “changed my life”, but what they actually mean is that “I only noticed this and that changing my life and all the rest went by unnoticed, yet equally important”

I got to admit that it seemed like an inconsequential list of results at the time, but as the years went by I saw a lot of people being pre-occupied with their “plans” and feeling bad when those didn’t seem to come in fruition (especially if they were unrealistic from the beginning), but I had none of those issues. The cat had led me to a path where plans were “just guidelines” or even a “santa wishlist” and, as such, they were nothing to really worry about. So point a was useful.

Then I saw people that got what they initially wanted and then lamented that things could have gone better, they could have had a better degree, a better job, a better car, a better wife (and different children) and a better everything, so they keep nagging to themselves and to people around them “if this and that had gone my way” or “if I had chosen this and that, I’d be now somewhere better”. None of those totally illogical worries and hypothetical utopias where “the universe conspires to help me” exist in my head. So point b was also useful.

Point c is tricky and I am still processing it. If every decision and moment counts, then doesn’t that also equally mean that every decision and moment are trivial and not-special? If they are ALL important, then, on some level, they are all also un-important, as well. Whic is a paradox.
Still a useful point though. Where other people just think of “major events” where things went wrong in a situation, I can re-assess more points that other people find trivial. A bit of a micro-management that, but hey, it is useful. Sometimes I just shrug at the whole thing and not care, exactly because of all those “issues of the moments”, which is also useful. Sometimes not caring about an issue is actually very useful.

Anyway, I am a bit rambling by now, so that is the cat incident and what I made out of it, more or less. If anyone has other ideas to toss in for processing, I’d be happy to listen and give them a spin. :slight_smile:

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I imagine many people come to realize those points about the contingencies of life, but I find it intensely interesting to hear how that realization came about. This is just the sort of narrative I was hoping to evoke from the community. Thank you for sharing.

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This story is more of an ongoing thing really. It’s of little consequence, but it does involve what I like to think of as a healthy jolt of reality; a mental reset against complacency and the narrowing of perspective. You can sometimes find that in unlikely places.

There’s a Bass Pro Shops outlet close to where I live. I’m hardly an outdoorsman, but there are aspects of that life that do appeal to me. For instance, I sometimes play with the idea of getting a compass and taking up orienteering as a hobby. This is unlikely to happen, but I like having the possibility in my back pocket, so to speak. I bring that mentality with me when I enter that huge store and begin poking through the hunting knives and hatchets, through the thermal blankets and rifle tripods and wild animal feed, the wildlife themed coffee mugs and lamps and wall placques.

It’s all very diverting. But I know perfectly well that to some extent it’s also a pretense. I know that what I’m really there for is to once again pay my respects to the big stuffed bear at the back of the store.

I can’t decide if it’s a kodiak bear or a grizzly. It’s thoroughly male, and a big bruiser as bears tend to be. It stands on its hind legs, about seven feet tall I would guess, although it’s not that easy to tell because he’s mounted on a fake boulder and it would be unseemly for me to jump up there with him. The claws are easily four inches long. The head seems enormous, like it would practically fill a bushel basket.

There’s nothing overtly threatening about the bear other than the sheer bulk of it, plus the fact that it stands on it’s hind legs. Yet I sometimes feel that, if anything , there’s something even more unsettling about this. Naturally it’s the eyes that get to me more than anything. I have no idea whether they are the bear’s actual eyes or how the taxidermist might have gone about preserving them. If they are pieces of glass they are thoroughly convincing.

The eyes are quite small for the size of that head. It’s as though the bear is looking at you from some distant and unknowable place. There’s really no predicting what it might do if it suddenly came to life. Maybe it would turn away from you with a grunt and go lurching away toward the fishing supply section. But then, it might also decapitate you with one good swipe of a forepaw. One moment your head is still attached, then suddenly it’s dangling by a flap of muscle and skin.

Lately an alarming number of people have let it be known that they consider themselves hard done by. No doubt this is true for many. As for those who suspect, deep down inside, that there’s something bogus about the claim they are making, they could certainly do worse than to find themselves a seven foot tall stuffed bear and spend some serious facetime with it. Take a good hard look. Here’s what life had to offer in the time before humans banded together for mutual protection. Life was indeed “nasty, brutish and short.” If you did attach yourself to a group of hunter-gatherers, you stood a very good chance of not being mauled to death by some large carnivore. This is a far cry from central heating, corrective surgery or online gaming, but we had to start with something.

There were conditions of course. If you were able bodied, you would have been expected to take your turn standing watch while others tended the fire, prepared food, sharpened tools or perhaps got on with inventing the wheel. You couldn’t avoid it simply because you weren’t in the mood, or because you felt that it cramped your style somehow. Failure to do your part had serious consequences, especially if someone died. Probably the best case scenario would have you being banned from the group. But then maybe you’d be tied up and left behind for some other bear that was searching for its next meal and wasn’t feeling particular.

I’m not necessarily a fan of taxidermy, but I have to admit that it can give me a rewarding glimpse into worlds I could only dream about otherwise. I like that bear. I would not presume to say that we’re friends, but I do enjoy our relationship. I feel indebted and wish I could do something in return. I wish he had met a better ending, though I’m not even sure what that means. I do hope we meet again.

( In a recent forum post I made a passing reference to bears, and this is what led me to decide that it was high time that I visited that bear again. The ogs forum continues to stimulate me, often in surprising ways.)

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Thanks for the splendid insights. I think you accidentally left out a word or two after “hard done by.” I assume you meant the bear’s presence.

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I was thinking about the public mood generally, though it’s true that I could have phrased it better.