The Ordinary Moment

October 21, 2014

Tucked into moments here and there throughout my day, I’m slipping in snippets of reading in Spencer Quinn’s latest Chet and Bernie book, Paw and Order.

I love the Chet and Bernie books. Bernie is your classic, noble-but-always-broke, hapless-good-guy private eye. Chet is his dog. The books are told in the first person. By Chet.

Stephen King (who has called Quinn “my favorite suspense novelist”) once wrote, “Quinn speaks two languages — suspense and dog — fluently.” That he does, and what makes the books such a joy to read is the experience of seeing the world through Chet’s eyes.

Today, standing in line at the store, I read this passage, the opening of Chapter 2, as Bernie and Chet are driving cross-country toward D.C.:

“It’s a big country, Chet,” Bernie said. “Last, best hope.” I looked out from the shotgun seat. Yes, big country was zipping past, this part hilly and so green, compared to back home. As for hopes, I had none at the moment: everything was perfect just how it was.

Less than fifty words, but I had to stop right there and close the book so I could look at life around me the way Chet sees it. And son of a gun: he was exactly right. Everything was perfect just how it was.

In The Tempest, Shakespeare’s last play, here’s what the lovestruck young prince Ferdinand says to Miranda the first time they are alone together:

“Hear my soul speak. Of the very instant that I saw you, did my heart fly at your service.”

At the opposite end of life’s spectrum, here is what Joan Didion writes about the last time she and her husband were together — the moment he collapsed and died of a heart attack, in her riveting memoir The Year of Magical Thinking:

“Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant.”

After months of reflection, she added three more words:

“The ordinary instant.”

I remember the moment Ana and I first held each other’s hand. I remember the moment my firstborn son took his last breath. Finding your true love; losing someone you love; beginnings and endings, triumph and tragedy, both happen in the ordinary instant.

The thing that’s so amazing about this is that so does everything else. Every instant is ordinary. And every instant contains the seeds of the extraordinary.

Every moment holds suspended the weight of the entire universe.

Epic change happens in the instant. Eternity happens there, too.

Probably the single greatest discovery of a decade and a half of research in positive psychology is that when it comes to creating more happiness in our lives, the biggest and most important factors are the smallest, simplest, and most accessible.

It isn’t only those moments that contain clearly life-altering events — such as falling in love, or losing a loved one — that life is transformed. Everything is being transformed in every moment.

The ancient Chinese observed that the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. But here’s the thing: it also ends with a single step. And in between? Nothing but single steps.

The doorway to that sense of “perfect just as it is” is not some big grand marble portico standing at the summit of a long arduous climb toward the exalted mountaintop. The doorway to “perfect just as it is” lies just inches away, and we step through it again in every moment.

Every ordinary moment.

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