I remember carving my daughter’s Halloween pumpkin when she was in second grade, and my attention wandered for just a second, and I was aware that it was wandering as it was happening, and sure enough the blade sliced through the pumpkin and then through the side of my forefinger, and I have not had the full feeling in that finger since. That was 12 years ago.
This past summer, while tidying up the backyard before our out-of-town guests arrived for a visit, I decided to cut some of the dead branches off the tree behind the house, and even though the branches were each more than a foot in diameter, and even though I was pretty sure there was a chainsaw in the barn or the garage, I thought it would be a good workout for me to do the job with an old handsaw that was my dad’s from probably 65 years ago.
I managed to get the branches cut, but a couple weeks later, I started developing a nerve pain in my elbow that has gotten worse and worse, and because I’m the type who always thinks I can heal myself of these sorts of ailments through my own forms of personal yoga, I never bothered to go see a doctor or any other health practitioner, and now I’m suffering and hoping the effects I’m experiencing aren’t irreversible.
In neither of these cases did I anticipate, beforehand, that anything out of the ordinary was about to take place, though I wanted the Halloween ritual to be special and memorable for my daughter. Yet both of them changed my life, and as such, these nothing moments involving one evening in the kitchen with a pumpkin and one afternoon in the yard on a ladder are among the standout moments of my life.
Surely, there are some such moments we plan for and that fulfill our hopes, but the ones I’m intrigued by are the moments that come out of nowhere, in an instant, and are life-changing.
Like the time I walked out to that field the summer between high school and college to play frisbee with my friends, and ended up sustaining an injury that would plague me the rest of my life.
Perhaps it’s telling that the standout moments that occur to me most readily and most immediately, at least right now, are the ones that changed me, by changing my body in some negative way. But rather than regretting these incidents, or wishing they never happened, I want to embrace them, for together with all the cherished moments and encounters that changed not my body but my mind or my heart or my philosophy, they make up my experience, my wisdom, my life.
Had I been more careful, more conscious and less-stubborn along the way, I likely would have experienced less pain of the physical variety and would have greater capacity now, but I would also have fewer standout moments in my life’s collection.
Does that mean, moving forward, that I am to disregard danger or seek out experiences that could expose me to injury all for the sake of feeling a little more alive? Likely not, for not only is that not my style, but my motivation is to combine the open-mindedness and open-heartedness that open us up to ongoing life experiences with the accumulated knowledge of consequence and the intelligence that comes with experience.
But I am invigorated by this feeling, this realization that even the momentary lapses in judgment and attention that resulted in these aggravations and unfortunate consequences are to be embraced and incorporated, not rejected or excluded as some sort of exceptions, for they too go into creating the experience and the awareness that my life has given me.