People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days, and if one has only one good memory left in one’s heart, even that may sometime be the means of saving us.
Moment 1: “A New Boy”
I was about 6 years old when we moved from Montana to Michigan. I was brought to my new school and left in the charge of Mrs. Smith, my new grade 1 teacher. I sat alone in the classroom waiting for something to happen. I imagine I was scared, but I don’t remember. What I do remember is a blonde head popping up in the outside window, shrieking with excitement–“It’s a new boy!”
This was one of the moments from my life. Objectively, time is composed of a series of identical units, but our subjective experience is that time is not homogeneous–time is less like a clock than a lava lamp.
In an attempt to understand time in this more subjective way, I have here described a few of the events that constitute a very large inventory of moments.
Moment 2: “Big Buck”
I was high up in the Canadian Rockies, far off any road–we had traveled up a frozen river bed till we could go no further. It was too late to build a lean-to and too cold, so we decided to sleep in the truck. It was too cold to sleep in the truck. So at 3 am we started climbing higher into the mountains and watched the sunrise from the top of the world. At about noon I saw a huge mountain muley careening down the opposite slope. Then he disappeared in the brush. I waited. He appeared in a small stand of trees to my left. That’s when time almost stopped. I didn’t even feel the recoil of my 30-06. I didn’t hear the gun’s report. All I saw was the deer turn and run back the way he had come. He didn’t make it thirty feet. A perfect shot.
Moment 3: “Cotton Balls”
Dread poured from my chest into my belly. I turned and ran home crying. I had forgotten my cotton balls AGAIN! I think we were going to make cotton ball igloos on construction paper and snow was impossible to represent without cotton balls. I had forgotten to bring them several days in a row. I still think this is way too much responsibility for a 5-year-old and why the heck didn’t the school provide the necessary materials for our kindergarten projects. I remember returning to school with a green Dippity Doo jar full of cotton balls.
Moment 4: “Mount St. Helens”
I will never forget May 20, 1980. It was raining mud. I was out in a field south of Olympia, WA at about 8:30 in the morning. I was turning off water pumps because we didn’t move irrigation lines on Sundays. When I was finished, I got into my truck and I couldn’t see through the windshield. The wipers smeared grey mud. Church was canceled that morning because of a volcanic eruption. That was Mt. Helen’s first, one of the later ones happened on a beautiful clear day and I watched the ash bloom from the same field (another moment).
Moment 5: “Life from now on”
I was on the Oregon coast with my daughters in August 2008. My sons weren’t there because of summer jobs. My wife was leaving me so she didn’t come; it wasn’t a very happy holiday. This had been my point of view for the previous 18 months–I had no happiness, nor any hope for future happiness. I was watching my girls and the waves crash onto the beach; I sighed and said to my self, “So this is how life is going to be from now on.” Then it hit me–I was in this incredible place with people I adored and we were going out for clam chowder later. I said it again with an entirely different view of the world, “So this is how life is going to be from now on.”
Moment 6: Joe Carter’s home run in 1993.
Moment 7: “First Day of Farming”
In 1996 we bought a farm, a pigeon farm (we raised squab for the fancy Chinese restaurants in Vancouver and the other markets across North America). One day we took possession I went for a walk by the barns. I wondered what I had gotten myself into. I knew little about raising squab and the flock was in bad shape; there was a lot of disease and very poor production. It was a scary moment and I’ll never forget it. 10 years later I could diagnose diseases by smell and production was increased 20 times.
Moment 8: Dachau
The Nazi concentration camp outside of Munich. I’ve always been interested in World War Two. I took classes on it in both high school and university, read many books, and watched every documentary I could. The Holocaust was particularly intriguing and baffling for me–how could people do this to each other, and on such a scale? In spite of all I read, perhaps because of it, the Holocaust and Nazism were abstract concepts to me. The incredible thing about Dachau was the realization that the Holocaust was made out of concrete, wood and barbed wire. There was a road outside the barbed wire–if you were standing on that road in 1944 you were not in the camp, 20ft. over and you were in the camp. That 20 feet made all the difference. It was in that moment that I became aware of the spatial and material reality of the Final Solution. Evil is not just a vague idea, it is a concrete reality.
Moment 9: Every time I’ve watched The Sound of Music.
Moment 10: The day each of my children was born
Time is made up of such moments; they surge around us and engulf us and lift us and then dissipate–like a lava lamp.
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