Have you really lived ten thousand or more days, or have you lived one day ten thousand or more times?
One of my favorite quotes is by a trapeze artist after he suffered a terrible accident in which he was severely hurt and several members of his family were killed. After a long and painful recuperation, he returned to work and begun perfecting a high-risk, “death defying” trapeze act. He was asked why, after such a terrible accident, he was back performing again. He said “These are the moments I’m alive; all else is waiting.” That’s what fond memories are made of, those moments in which we feel fully alive. To experience life fully and to have these moments, we must be willing to take risks and step out of our comfort zone. We must do what initially feels terribly uncomfortable and also must accept that there are no guarantees in life. Balloons break, love affairs end and everybody has to visit the dentist.
If we aren’t willing to change our living patterns, we consign ourselves to a sameness that creates boredom and ennui. You will have discovered the perfect formula for being perpetually restless and discontent. These moments of feeling alive are the moments I live for. These are those moments of ecstasy, passion and appreciation of beauty. These are the moments that fill me with gratitude and inspire me to be my best. For in these moments, I know that this is the answer to my search for meaning and purpose in life.
Kathy and I recently spent 10 days in Rome and had experiences that I will treasure for the rest of my life. One evening we were stumbling around like lost, bewildered tourists looking for a particular restaurant and having no luck. We turned the corner and there was the Pantheon, lit up with floodlights, a 2,000 year old building of indescribable beauty. It literally took my breath away.
A few days later, we went to the Vatican and saw Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Another “once in a lifetime,” awe inspiring and humbling moment. Experiencing the wonder, beauty and genius of Michelangelo set the stage for another one of those “moments.” On our first day in Rome, we had met and befriended a young lady from Greece. A few days later we bumped into her in front of our hotel and invited her to check out our accommodations (she was a tour guide and wanted to know more about our hotel). While in the room, we begun to talk about the wonderful sites in Rome and how we were all deeply moved by the beauty of the Sistine Chapel. Kathy begun to read some quotes and comments about Michelangelo, the Sistine Chapel and Pope Julius the 2nd, who commissioned the work.
Michelangelo wasn’t keen on painting the chapel ceiling; he wanted to sculpture. Reluctance is an understatement; Michelangelo characterized one of his meetings with the Pope by saying, “I was forced to go with a halter round my neck”.
The next passage is from a letter of introduction introducing Michelangelo to the Pope and gives insight into how the pope managed to get Michelangelo to undertake this Herculean task:
- “The bearer of these presents will be Michelangelo the sculptor, whom we send to please and satisfy His Holiness. We certify that he is an excellent young man, and in his own art without peer in Italy, perhaps even in the universe. His nature is such that he requires to be drawn out by kindness and encouragement; but, if love is shown him and he is well treated, he will accomplish things which will make the whole world wonder.”
Centuries later another genius, Goethe, said that no one who has not seen the Sistine Chapel can have a complete conception of what a single man can accomplish.
All three of us were choked up by these passages that helped explain so accurately our feelings and some of the history that lead to the creation of this divine masterpiece. Anna had been a virtual stranger to us and yet in that moment we felt deeply connected. These moments of aliveness and feeling connected were worth whatever price had to be paid in terms of lack of comfort and the awkwardness of being an American in a foreign country and a different culture. We are already planning our next venture abroad. Paris! Here we come.