There are certain moments that transcend existence. Or rather, there are certain moments that make existence transcendent, moments you identify years, maybe even decades, later as life-changing, where you look back in wonder that you were there, that you were a part of it, that you saw it and felt it and shook your head at the magic of seeing and feeling it, that you look back at grateful to have been there at that time in that place, to have been alive at a time that allowed you play a role in it, even if only to experience it as viewer. I’m talking about the kind of moments that you try to explain to others (but usually fail), that become stories you repeat again and again without ever having to embellish them or make them bigger than then they were because they were simply that great, moments that you remember with a grateful shake of the head and a grin even when othersdon’t, or can’t, understand.
Usually these are big moments: maybe the moment you said “I do” or the day your first child was born or the day you converted to…well, anything. But many of these moments are subtle, delicate waves on the ocean of a lifespan, moments that can barely be measured except for how they change you. You may be the only one who remembers them, who knows why they are meaningful. You might be the only person in existence who remembers the moment at all. You may be the last keeper of a moment that, whether it is remembered or not, will race on into eternity bearing with it meanings beyond the scope of human understanding. But you, at least you, if only you, have a glimmer of understanding, or recognition, and therefore also of appreciation. This is the kind of moment that can never be planned for or expected. You can hope for it, even pray for it, but until you have experienced it you can’t know what to pray for. Sometimes this is a moment you share with others and that you remember together with a knowing nod, the kind of moment borne only of corporate experience.
I experienced a moment like this several years ago when I was living in Dubuque, Iowa in an old creaky house with an unfinished attic and a damp basement worthy of any good low-budget horror film. There were five of us, bundled against the frigid winter, a laptop our only source of light and half burnt tobacco products our meager source of warmth. Something played softly through the surround-sound my house mate had jerry-rigged, nothing I can recall specifically except that it was atmospheric ambient noise.I t was probably early Sigur Ros or Derek Webb or U2. One of the three is a good guess.
As we sat we talked about books, sort of, movies occasionally, how cold it was although we didn’t wish it to get warm. As I recall we wrote a bit and read some until the laptop died and we could only sit in the dark and wonder at how hot a bowl of half-smoked pipe tobacco can get. That in itself can make for a transcendent moment. Even in the smallest of things.
But as we sat there I was struck by the magnitude of such moments. Not that any specifically meaningful thing happened but rather that what happened was more meaningful in it’s simplicity than almost any other kind of thing could have been at that point in our collective existences. We were – or least I was – molded by simple moments such as these, moments of being together. I was changed, altered forever, made into something altogether new by the moments like this and on this night I began to see it happening, I began to know that I (dare I saw we) was being planted and growing, that I was, if I can take the metaphor another step, being fertilized.
Now, here’s the thing. Our live are made up of moments that change us. Our lives are an ebb and flow of inciting actions and climaxes, again and again and again. Just as our DNA consistently changes so do we as individual souls change. We are planted and fertilized over and over from the moment we are, well, planted at the outset to the moment we become fertilizer in the end. But what set this moment apart was my conscious realization that that moment would render me forever altered. That after that moment – and every moment like it – I could never be the same. And with that realization came another understanding.
This is what friendship does, I saw. This is what camaraderie does. This, I understood, is why we pursue relationship and we should pursue it and why when we find it (when we find relationships that help us grow in a healthy fashion) we feel honored to be, as CS Lewis’ put it, in the company of our betters. This is why we do – and should – pursue friendship. Even in the smallest, most commonplace moments we are changed by those with whom we are friends. And thus, I further realized, the who with whom I am friends matters more than the what. It matters what actions the players take if the players are worth being fertilized by (if you’ll continue to pardon the metaphor).
There are, I came to understand, few things more precious than friendship. And I’ve since come to see that those things that can be considered more precious than friendship – marriage, for example, parenthood, the church – are only variations on the relationships one finds in friendship.
So moments such as this and what they help me to understand are not commonplace at all but rather they are the kind of moments that are as transcendent, in their own way, as the day I said “I do” and the day I found out I would be a dad. These days are enormously influential and important days in my life, days I will remember joyously until I die. But perhaps simple moments like the one I experienced in that cold attic – and the realizations that accompanied it – are just as life changing in their own transcendent way. They are the kind of moments that make the larger moments possible. They are the branches that make the flowers bloom.