I’ve been thinking a lot lately about defining moments. Both within the small context of my life and the larger context of my country. The thought I keep coming back to is that they are always moments, not Moments — and they’re never what you think they might be.
When I was younger, I had this idea that one day I would wake up one day and discover meaning. That something would happen and define me.
I always assumed this would be a huge tragedy during which I would rise to the occasion (whatever that occasion might be), or, some other sort of demonstration of greatness. Ego? Yeah. Mine was out of control.
As I watched the final episodes of Paris Hilton BFF (my new favorite television show) it occured to me that I’m not the only one who believes that she is too special to be normal. In fact, I think this is something that every reasonably attractive, moderately intelligent/funny person in my generation believes.
It was amazing to me how clear it was that each of the girls on this show had spent their entire lives practicing talking to a camera in a confessional booth. I have to admit, I actually used to practice this in the mirror myself. I also used to devote a lot of time to giving a good angle to the imaginary cameras following me around. I still have ongoing conversations in my head where I am saying devastatingly brilliant things to Oprah, or Rosie, or whoever will give me a captive audience.
I blame three things: late 90s “cinema” that exaggerated and romanticized every dull teenage experience (thinking specifically of the movie “Can’t Hardly Wait” here), the Real World and Coldplay.
We expect our lives to be full of Grand Gestures, Great Loves and Defining Moments.
And I’ve learned that by internalizing these subtle messages, I’ve often really missed the point.
This year, when my mother was nearly killed, I learned a thing or two about Defining Moments: you never remember them. They turn into a collection of hazy, terrified memories and the things that truly define us are mere moments, no capitalization required.
Life’s just not ciniematic. One second you’re laying in bed Googling “gall stones” and ignoring a phone call from your little sister. Twenty minutes later you get around to checking her message and your life changes — and you know it does — but you’re not going to remember any of it.
What you will remember are very small things, the way the sun feels on your shoulders as you walk toward a twisted chunk of metal to collect your mom’s personal belongings or the way it felt to lay next to your grandma on an air mattress in a borrowed apartment. You might remember how terrible and boring it was to sit next to your mom waiting for her to stop being in a coma. You will definitely remember what her voice sounded like when she woke up.
Obviously, these are all things that happened to me this year. But I don’t think they say much about this year, or me for that matter.
When I look back on 2008, it would be easy to define it as “the year I moved to Portland” or the “year of Mom’s crash.”
But I just feel those taglines are so empty.
So much more meaningful: 2008 was the year I started wearing a neutral shade of lipstick to work and bought my first under eye cream. The year I started calling my mother every day to say “hi.” The year I stopped taking everything for granted, or assuming that greatness was just going to happen.