“And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”
This is a quote from a coming-of-age novel I loved reading as a teenager called “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, written by Stephen Chbosky. Its spoken by a high school student, Charlie, who describes a moment in which he and his friends are driving late into the night. Upon coming out of this tunnel, Charlie is inundated by the city’s bright lights and the random laughter he shares with his friends:
“Anyway, Patrick started driving really fast, and just before we got to the tunnel, Sam stood up, and the wind turned her dress into ocean waves. When we hit the tunnel, all the sound got scooped up into a vacuum, and it was replaced by a song on the tape player. A beautiful song called “Landslide.” When we got out of the tunnel Sam screamed this really funny scream, and there it was. Downtown. Lights on buildings and everything makes you wonder. Sam sat down and started laughing. Patrick started laughing. I started laughing. And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.”
This part of the novel stuck out to me — it was something I yearned for too. Well I too, wanted to have an “infinite” moment! I too, wanted to experience a moment that was so ethereal, so breathtaking, so surreal, that I felt on top of the world.
A moment in which nothing could harm or hurt me. A moment in which I felt truly…..
A few moments I’ve experienced throughout my 27 year existence have lead me to believe that while the majority of life may be “going through the motions” — be it working a 9–5 job, paying bills, Sleep-Eat-Survive-Repeat — it is these “infinite” moments that are woven throughout our lives that are part of what makes life truly worth living.
One of my earlier “infinite” moments was when I was 9 years old. It was the year 2000, and I was standing on top of the World Trade Center. Of course in the year 2000 I didn’t know what was to come in the year 2001, just as in 1999, we didn’t know Y2K was never to come in 2000 (in retrospect, it would have been so much easier to deal with Y2K than that whole climate change thing). Jokes aside, that night on top of the Twin Towers I did feel like I was on top of the world. And I think that moment means more to me now than it did then, because now I think “Wow, if only I had known at that moment that I would one day move to that very city with the mesmerizing lights I saw that night.” Or, “Wow, if only I had known at that moment what was to happen at that very same point I was standing just one fateful year later. How would I have been different. Would I have been different?”
The city’s bright lights that night were mesmerizing, yes, but the natural lights of the world all the more so. My second “infinite” moment is of the stars.
In college, I did a fieldwork internship in Liberia, West Africa. One night, my group and I took a short excursion to the beach. Talking late into the night, at some point we stepped outside onto the deck of the cottage in which we we were staying. And what I saw before me, I will never forget.
Millions. Perhaps even quite literally, billions of stars were visible above us. I didn’t believe it was real. I had not, and to this day, have not seen something as beautiful. Since that night, I have been searching for something of equal measure, much to no avail.
Well, I suppose I haven’t seen anything quite as beautiful as the stars of a Liberian sky. But I have witnessed their powerful collective aesthetic manifested through sound. This brings me to the night of Mozart.
I took a trip to Central Europe a few years ago and went to a Mozart concert in Vienna, Austria, where Mozart spent a lot of his time later in life and where he wrote some of his most famous compositions. And I don’t have articulate enough words to describe what I heard that night…but Mozart’s contemporary might. A quote from the movie, Amadeus, by Antonio Salieri, who reflects on one of Mozart’s scores:
“The beginning simple, almost comic. Just a pulse, bassoons and basset horns, like a rusty squeezebox. Then suddenly, high above — an oboe, a single note, hanging there unwavering, till a clarinet took over and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight! This was a music I had never heard. Filled with longing, such unfulfillable longing! It had me trembling. It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God.”
None of these moments have had anything to do with money. Or power. Or fame. Prestige, appearance, or material things. And none of my infinite moments to come will. They will always be small and innocent. As if I wasn’t paying close enough attention to them, they’d be just nearly missed.
Just nearly missed. This reminds me of a lesson on “moments” I learned from my college commencement speaker. Most of us won’t remember our commencement speaker or the message they gave to us, but I vividly remember mine. He was (at the time) the CEO of Twitter, Dick Costolo. Okay, most of his speech was just utterly hilarious, and he made a lot of references to Twitter (#GoBlue!). But one particular story has stayed with me. He was telling about a time in his life where he was taking an improv acting class immediately upon graduating from Michigan (my alma mater, in case you didn’t get that through the hashtag reference). As you know, improvisation requires thinking on your feet without having ample time to really think about what you’re going to say/do next. The acting coach in Costolo’s class notices one day that the students were thinking really hard about what line they were going to say next. It showed in their performance, and…it didn’t look good. The acting coach proceeds to then stop the class. He says to them:
“Stop. I want you all to stop right now. And I don’t want you to think about what you’re going to say or do next, or think about what you’ve already said or done. Be in this moment.
And now, be in this moment.
And now, be in this moment.”
This part of the speech stuck out to me, as subsequently recounting on it often has made me realize that I could have had so many more infinite moments in life had I just been present enough to experience them.
I think I’ve spent a lot of my life either dwelling on some forlorn past or daydreaming of an idyllic future. But if I’m neither here nor there, then where am I right now? Not present enough to experience the invincible moments I yearned for as a teenager, living vicariously through Charlie’s infinitesimal instance of infinity.
And now to you, reading this: I want you to recount some of your infinite moments in life. You’ll know what they are.
I want you to think back on them, here and there. Not in the spirit of dwelling on the past, but to know that these moments are to come again. They surely will, if you pay close enough attention to allow them. Look forward to them.
But don’t live in the future. Don’t live in the past. Be in this moment.
And then, be in this moment.
And then, be in this moment.
And now, be in this one.
This piece is a speech I wrote and delivered as a former member of Toastmasters, a non-profit that organizes clubs on public speaking. Other speeches I have published on Medium are “Stargirl”, “Why Do I Only Know 2 Prince Songs?”, and “The Lifelong Learner”.