On A Perfect Moment

“God has given us this moment of Peace.” Natalia Ginzburg Winter in the Abruzzi

There are times when a feeling of contentment sweeps over me. Time stops, I don’t move for fear the feeling will vanish. I try not to think. The feeling stays that way for a while and then disappears. I try to recapture it and can’t.

Nothing specific ever triggers a perfect moment, it doesn’t last long, and it can’t be predicted or controlled, nor does it occur frequently. In fact, I can’t recall when it last arrived. It is a mystery, not chemically induced, for that is not part of my life, although I suspect there is some subtle change going on somewhere among the neurons. Nothing I can pinpoint with any certainty brings it on. All I know is that it is a perfect moment.

A perfect moment is not the kind of experience that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to as Flow, for I am not engaged in any particular activity or focusing on anything specific. In fact, I may simply be relaxing or sauntering around the neighborhood. It is not the same as an epiphany where you suddenly experience an insight about a problem or the meaning of something.

The first time I heard the term “perfect moment” was in a monologue performed by the late actor Spalding Gray. Apparently he had first used that term in his book, Swimming to Cambodia. He describes a visit to Bangkok where he had his first perfect moment.

“At first glance I just couldn’t imagine Bangkok, a sprawling city of heat and chaos, as being the kind of place where I would find my own “perfect moment.” But I soon discovered that if you’re prepared to accept it for what it is, for all the good, the bad, and the downright ugly, then your efforts will be rewarded. A“perfect moment”…sort of sneaks up on you when you least expect it. A full red coloured moon at dusk rising above corrugated rooftops. Or the sight, and unbelievable sound, of a long tailed boat as it blasts it’s way along the Chao Phraya River with The Temple of Dawn as a backdrop. …All you have to do is get out there whatever your budget. A “perfect moment” is priceless anyway.”

I am especially fond of Alice Munro’s short story The Jack Randa Hotel, her tale of a fractured marriage and runaway husband. I was in Italy the first time I read this story. It was late in the afternoon, the day was warm, and I was on the rooftop terrace of the hotel in Florence where I was staying then. I read her story slowly, very slowly, as I knew this perfect moment would not last long or be repeated soon, if ever, again.

It is said that the right book at the right time can give rise to a lifelong reading habit. I have always wondered if Alexandre Dumas’ Camille was that book for me. I think I was about 14 or 15 when I read the novel. As I recall the situation, the 1937 movie with Greta Garbo as Camille had been reissued and for reasons that completely baffle me now, I decided that I wanted to see it. I am fairly certain my mother suggested I should read the book first and that she had purchased a copy for me.

And so, after breakfast early one weekend morning, I went back to bed to begin reading the novel. Going back to bed after breakfast was not something I ever did. That day was the exception. Reading Camille during the day in bed seemed like such a lark. Everything seemed to fall into place then on what was no doubt a sunny Saturday in Los Angeles, sometime during the early fifties. I returned to the book after lunch and continued reading until I had finished by mid-afternoon, in plenty of time to see the film that evening. It was perhaps my first perfect moment.