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More Stories - The Way We Were

As we remember 9/11 of last year, read Walter Mill's piece, as  printed in Recipe du Jour's great newsletter last October.  Grasp the good moments, folks.... you never know when you'll need them.

On the Soccer Field in Late September
by Walter Mills

There are some moments that slow and then freeze like a strip of film in a camera set for long exposure.  Moments that, even as they pass, you want to keep forever in your memory hoard, as the Beowulf poet phrased it some 1200 years ago.

Such a moment was the scene on the Centre Hall soccer field on a Tuesday night in late September as I stood with two soccer moms and watched the four and five-year-olds racing up and down the field in a cold wind under an autumnal sky.  Swift black clouds poured in on the wind; we shivered in thin jackets, and bare-legged boys and girls chased the white ball across the clipped green grass.

While I talked with one of the mothers about recent events, my eyes kept straying to the field where my daughter's bright mop of fair hair was sometimes all I could recognize in the melee.  Then the play would stop, and I could see her, hopping back and forth from one foot to the other, a small jiggling silhouette against an ominous black sky.  The movement of her face and hair seemed to come in streaks, like light on a dark photographic plate.   I wanted to fix her small round face and sturdy little body forever in my memory.

A few nights later I listened to the country's new Poet Laureate, Billy Collins, on public radio as he talked about poetry's ability to affirm life even in the face of tragedy, to celebrate existence in the particular moment.  The Japanese verse form called the haiku is almost all about these moments of awareness of natural beauty, and the joy that the poet felt being there to see the cherry blossoms dropping into a stream, or light falling on the snowy summit of Mt. Fuji.

I think of this time in my five-year-old daughter's life as nearly perfect.   Her sadness is over quickly, while her joy bubbles up from some deep well of happiness.  Everything is new to her, experienced almost for the first time.   I watch her as she carefully ties her shoelaces into big bows, and I try to remember when I last gave such care and attention to anything I did.  Yet as perfect as I believe this year of her life to be, I wouldn't keep her at this age even if I had the power.

Instead I tried to freeze the moment in the only way I could, in memory.  I deliberately squeezed the flash bulb of consciousness and hoped the picture would stay etched in the cells and synapses of my brain. I knew it was an almost useless exercise; there are far too many memories to retain.  Which few moments of my daughter's perfect year will I ever recall?

As we stood on the soccer field in the gathering darkness, the grownups talked about the changes that had come over us in this bleak September.   Meanwhile, the white soccer ball leapt across the green field and the children raced and tumbled after it, just like on every other Tuesday and Thursday night of the season.

Such moments tend to be lost in the endless shuffle of our lives as we come and go to work and supper and then to bed.  The still moment of reflection and awareness awaits an event to reveal its significance.  Sometimes the event is tragic.  Set against the poet's joy in witnessing the exquisite fall of the cherry blossom, is his knowledge that next year the tree will blossom, and he may not be there to see it.

Even as I try to gather these moments into my memory hoard, I know that all consciousness is intentional, and that we must reach out to grasp the light on Mt. Fuji and bring it into ourselves.  The moments fly by, and we must catch them in their flight, hold them, and let them go.

(The above column originally appeared in the Centre Daily Times and is copyright © 2001 by Walter Mills. All rights reserved worldwide. To contact Walt, see  .)

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