Betty Duffy

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Moment on Moments

Years ago, when I was but a young lass traveling toute seule in Florence, I stood in Piazza Michelangelo looking at a map, when I heard someone speaking to me.

"Mademoiselle!" a voice called several times before I realized that it addressed me, and when I turned, I saw a young man, Italian looking, Fabio hair and Johnny Dep complexion who proceeded, in French, to ask me for directions.

I answered in French, though it was clear that I was blonde and not Italian myself nor very French looking. I blithely assumed, however, that I had so assimilated the European way of being (standing, as I was, with a map in the middle of one of the most touristy destinations in Italy) that I very well might pass for a French woman. Though the question of why an Italian would ask a foreigner for directions never occurred to me, and I let him look at my map, all the while making clear that French was not my native language and that I was really much, much further from understanding a word that he said than I had made known.

Having checked on my map all that he would feign to check, he handed it back, and began in rather halting English to chat me up with more gusto. And I, yes, all alone, if only temporarily before I caught back up with my housemates, loved every minute of it and agreed to sit in a little cafe and have a drink with him.

It was only then that I began to suspect that I was a mere lamb in the clutches of a professional hunter--that he knew a few lines in English very well, and he presented them to me with grandeur and expectation only to lapse just after into complete silence. And by the time I reached the bottom of my wine glass, I knew with certainty that I was ready to get the flip out of there.

So I told him I had people to meet and began to stand up to make my exit, but he held my wrist at the table and asked, "You reject me?"

"I'm sorry," I started to say, but he held his hand up to silence me, and closed his eyes to stop all communication. The stage was cleared for him to make his declaration of supreme disappointment at having been rejected by an American tourist:


I let him have it, his moment that is, and then I took off for real, never again to fall for the bait of an Italian pick-up artist. But I have thought often about his moment, his poignant silence all done up in caps-lock, punctuated by an ellipsis and an exclamation point, and sometimes feel that that moment--or at least his demand that I observe it--is one of the best presents anyone has ever given me.

Because it has inspired me to declare my own moments of supreme disappointment and conversely, supreme triumph, with equal gusto.

I have been reading Muriel Spark's, "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie," about a teacher in a girls' school who never marries, but spends a large portion of class time telling her pupils about her past romances, all the while encouraging them to recognize the signs of being in one's prime. It's important to recognize and appreciate it while one's in it. Otherwise, you might miss it and spend the rest of your life chasing it.

But I'm realizing that "primes" come in many varieties at various points in one's life, and that there are indeed, a number of worthy occasions on which a lady might tell the world to hush so she can shake her fist at the moon and declare, "THIS…IS MY MOMENT!" I've oft done it of late, in sorrow, in happiness, in frustration and delight.

The key that I never seem to remember, is that one's prime, or one's moment, or one's time, however you term it, should be recognized with gratitude rather than yearning for more, that being someone, even someone alone and unknown, is far superior to idealizing a "has been" or a "would be," and that these moments are no less poignant for having gone unwitnessed.


Kimberlie said...

I think I might be in one of my "primes." Though, I'd rather no one noticed.

Seriously, I love the way you write. I could actually picture myself in that little scene in Italy witnessing you and that Italian pick-up artist. I could imagine the drama and the flair of his reaction. You paint beautiful pictures with your words!

Dan and Peg said...

As a new follower, this is quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs! I, too, love the way you write.
I would have to agree that there are many "primes" in life, and they should be "recognized with gratitude". I feel like I did that so easily when I was younger, but struggle to find that appreciation for where I am now, and often do find myself yearning. Reading this had helped me put it back into perspective! Thanks!

Colleen Duggan | Writer said...

It's like I always tell my kids (and myself), "Who you are is more important than what you do (or have done)."


Trish Bailey de Arceo said...

Ha! Loved it.

Erin said...

I was reading, recently, a few tips on how to write memories. The best suggestion I found was to write in moments rather than in one long memory. Moments, after all, capture an audience best and often hold the greatest meanings.

Love this thought! :)

Christy said...

Great connection! I've got that book on my to-read list, and I'm glad it still resonates with people. Its also pretty important to be able to recognize within yourself that you should take moments for yourself no matter in what emotion. I think the Holy Spirit really works in those moments.

Owen said...

"...these moments are no less poignant for having gone unwitnessed" and even, wait for it, unblogged about :)

Anonymous said...

Muriel Spark is wonderful and when you have finished the book, go watch the movie (again?), starring one of the greatest actresses in the world: Maggie Smith. It's a wonderful portrayal of one who is letting her prime pass through her fingers, while in deep denial. Watch especially the scene where her young student calls her bluff and Brodie's whole world collapses.

Karla said...

Yes, the film is fantastic. As is your post!

(also, it's "toute seule" in the feminine. sorry.)

BettyDuffy said...

I stink at French.

Lizzie said...

I've just had one of those 'moments' today but it was more an opportunity for someone else to step up to the plate and show me what they're made of. Sadly, they're obviously not made of much...

What a run of great posts recently Betty!Love them...Re: 'moments' I think the older I get, the more I realise the impact of particular times and places - when I was younger, I didn't have a clue how profound some of the conversations/decisions were. It's a shame really because I might have enjoyed or appreciated them more if I had realised.

I don't know about you but I feel that I'm very aware now of how moments and choices are going to impact my life in the longer term which makes them so much more daunting...

God bless and have a lovely weekend!

amber giles said...

yes x yes x