One Beautiful Moment

Another midday commute down Cleveland Avenue.

Before it happens, I don't even see the rickety mini-van moving just ahead of me.

Suddenly, without any reason, a sheet of ice lifts from the top of the minivan and dances up, up, up, into the winter sunlight. A perfectly rectangular glimmering translucent serving platter, it spins in the light like an a gargantuan flipped quarter, with the magical ability to cast sparkling light in every direction.

Logically I know that time couldn't have stopped to allow me to lean forward over my steering wheel and enjoy the rotating, accidental splendor. It also seems unlikely that the momentum and inertia could toss the ice so high: twenty? thirty? feet up? Up? I strain forward into the windshield to watch the magic, now gracefully plummeting back toward its inevitable mortality.

I wonder whether the force of it crashing upon Cleveland Avenue will yield a satisfying smashing sound, and whether the ice will undergo yet another brilliant shattering transformation - shards of diamond clarity scattering across the pavement like a hyperkinetic ripple.

And then I wonder (in quite the same detached and delighted way) whether my windshield, weakened by the crack which has been spreading in various directions across it for the last year, will shatter inward when the ice plate hits it.

Because now I know (not fear, just realize) that this beautiful gift, this rotating chunk of ice, will meet my ford windstar minivan windshield, which, (despite my 15000 frames per second vision which has given me the delightful perceptual misapprehension of utter slowness) careens forward at about 38 miles per hour.

In that moment I wonder: should I close my eyes at impact, perhaps protecting them from the shards of flying glass, and hopefully preserve my vision?

Or should I bank on the fact that sight won't ever get better than this? Perfect light, perfect motion, perfect refraction - transferred into the glorious explosion of millions of windshield shards flying everywhere? Filling my last moment of vision with the truest combination of light and motion imaginable?

Shouldn't I hold my eyes open for this impending holy moment? Be grateful for all the drudgery and corruption that my eyes won't have to record? No more strip malls or painted concrete blocks or drop ceilings or florescent lights. Grateful that all the dingy monotony constructed by those who battle beauty with blind commitment to function and efficiency will never pollute my visual imagination again? Shouldn't I opt for a life baptized in a moment of sensory delight? Wouldn't that be the best homage I could pay to this random good fortune?

And metacognitively I began to peruse the problem of speed:

Without the flow of traffic and my own hurtling metallic trajectory, I could never have observed this beautiful moment in such a close and connected way.

But it is precisely my speed which now undermines my ability to make the best decision in a strange and unplanned moment: Is the price of sight for the rest of my life worth one instant of nearly perfect visual experience?

Why are we asked to make impossible decisions at unexpected times? The decisions are rendered difficult by two interrelated qualities of their immediacy: our inability to dispassionately estimate their relative weight *and* (conversely?) our dependence upon our own immediate perceptions which affirm that their weight is immense.

Good Reasons and Good Impressions rotate as slowly and magnificently as a two foot chunk of brilliantly shimmering ice falling inevitably toward us. None of us is ever ready to accept these moments.


Daniel Rudd said...


the time space continuum is a burden that does not rest lightly upon your back.

your brain must be like 10,000 years old.

Is this why sometimes, when I ask you to pass me the pepper, you just stare at me while my food gets cold?

seriously: this is my favorite post in along time.

Anonymous said...

Maybe now you'll stop making fun of those of us who pirate-patches year round.