At the risk of sounding somewhat lame, I find I am having more of those ‘moments’. I am not talking about ‘senior moments’ where memory suddenly takes flight and I can’t remember my best friend’s name – I’ve had those all my life and I refuse to start worrying about them now. I am talking, rather, about moments of heightened awareness of the goodness of life; a simple feeling of happiness to be alive.
Trying to write about these moments makes me realise just how difficult they are to define in precise terms. They have nothing to do with life in the sense of mortality – or not directly. Over Easter (ironically one of the greatest celebration of immortality) I spent five days ‘trying to kill myself’ on a ski mountaineering trip in the Bernese Alps. Each day our group was faced with physical and mental challenges in situations where mistakes were potentially life-threatening. To voice your fears would be destabilizing for the whole group so you turn your focus inwards and battle your own demons – and mine seemed to be fiercer than most. I had myself down as the ‘wimp’ of the group, sometimes struggling to control myself from physically shaking. I was stunned when, on reaching our final summit, one of the men in the party said, ‘I have to be honest, I feel like crying. I am just so relieved to have survived.’ Now, that is about mortality; the sense of being lucky to have survived, happiness to be alive rather than dead. I don’t think anyone would deny that this is a good feeling but it is not the ‘moment’. Once the adrenaline has subsided and the breathing has slowed, a certain stillness descends. The gaze, hitherto turned inwards, makes a break for freedom. Suddenly, you notice. You become aware of the sheer beauty of what is around you and everything else disappears.
I am glad to say that there is no requirement to climb a mountain to experience these moments. I am sure we all have them. I spent last week in the UK with my mother who is very unwell. Sickness and introspection are unavoidable bedfellows. Likewise, I was consumed with concern – trying to gain control of a situation over which control is impossible. We walked in a nearby beech forest, the tiny spring leaves the brightest of greens. The air rippled with gentle spring sunlight and, as we rounded a corner, a carpet of bluebells spread across the woodland floor. For a moment, everything else in the world was forgotten. You couldn’t help but smile and we both felt so much better.
Any one of the senses can trigger a ‘moment’; a piece of music, the feel of warm sand between the toes, the smell of rain on parched land. I now have a word for it: ‘Extraspection’ – a time to look outwards. It is the exact opposite of introspection. Perhaps, as we boomers blossom, we find more time to stop and extraspect. A bit of extraspection doesn’t solve grief, worry, depression or financial crisis but moments of extraordinary happiness are always to be found, during the best of times and the worst of times. I no longer subscribe to ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ – clouds come and go but somewhere, beyond the cloud, is clear blue sky. You just have to remember to look for it and appreciate it when you see it.