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Things We Said Today

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There was a moment last week when I found myself standing on a beach I never could have imagined. Bookended by two cliffs was a great, smooth expanse of the most otherworldly sand. It was like a Neapolitan ice cream of fine golden sand, exotic black obsidian grains, and clear, saltlike crystals.

In the distance, perhaps a hundred metres away, a ferocious surf pounded, sending the occasional sheet of water sliding halfway up the beach and back into the sea, leaving different artwork in the sand each time. 

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Further up the bank lay dry, rippled dunes of the same sand, topped with colorless grass that made it look like a monochrome TV, only its background was a deep green mountain of ferns and palms.

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The pictures, as always, fail to do it justice, but they may give you an idea of the unique backdrop to that spectacular setting.

Most incredibly, there was nobody but me and my Kiwi host — who to me was still essentially a stranger — on this fantastic, alien beachscape. In Thailand I felt like the most beautiful places could not be enjoyed without sharing them with at least a small crowd of other beauty-seekers.

As I was pondering what cosmic fortune had brought me there, I noticed the ocean getting closer. A huge wave had broken and sent a vast sheet of seawater sweeping across hundred meters of sand towards us.

As it approached, I realized it wasn’t going to stop, and took off my shoes in a hurry. Without a moment to spare, the water gushed over our ankles and beyond, and suddenly we were standing the sea.

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It was a powerful moment. In terms of conventional, raw beauty, it was staggering, but I was more overwhelmed by the realization that this breathtaking scene was precisely where my life was at that moment. I knew in that instant that I would look back on that moment for the rest of my life.

I don’t think those “Wow, this is life right now” moments are necessarily rare, nor do they need to occur in such an epic setting. Sometimes I look back on unexpected conversations, bizarre situations or even the plainer moments with the same sense of amazement that my life somehow managed to take on such a completely unique and unpredictable form, if only for that moment. There is something divine to be found there, beneath the haze of preoccupation and thought. Alan Ball illustrated it perfectly in a plastic bag caught in a whirlwind in American Beauty.

But it is rare that you see it right while it’s happening.

Things We Said Today

One of my very favorite songs is a rather obscure Beatles song called Things We Said Today. It is a dark and brooding, quite out of place at a time when the Beatles albums were still almost entirely saccharine teenage love songs.

It tells the story of a couple who are constantly too busy to make dedicated, quality time for each other. In a moment of clarity, the narrator realizes that one day he will look upon the mundane, everyday conversations the two shared as the priceless moments they really were.

Someday when I’m lonely,
Wishing you weren’t so far away,
Then I will remember
Things we said today

At the time the passing words may have seemed unimportant, at best a means to an end — to some more ideal and more powerful moment. It may only be years later, when the relationship is dead, that the ordinary moments of years past will surface as powerful memories of a completely different season in one’s life.

The refrain “Then we will remember / things we said today” always puts a lump in my throat. It makes me think of past relationships and old friends, and how one time they were neither past nor old. They were right now.

Once in a while, when I’m doing something utterly ordinary, making toast or sitting on a bus, and a moment from the past pops into my head that I hadn’t thought of since it happened.

It could be anything: skipping stones on the creek with people I just met in Invermere, telling jokes in the dark at a sleepover in grade seven, or folding laundry on a Sunday with an ex-girlfriend. Most often they involve somebody who is no longer in my life. With it comes a hint of the unique, nameless emotion that belongs only to that moment.

No matter how you look at it, “right now” is tomorrow’s past. In the context of the moments leading up to and away from it, right now’s meaning is usually lost among the needs and desires of the moment. Looked at from some time later, the distracting noise of moment-to-moment attachments that might have eclipsed it then are no longer in the picture, and the simple beauty and life-affirming power of the moment radiates in a way it never did before.

Imagine if we could place the moment’s repetitive (and completely temporary) mental chatter on the backburner and see its lasting meaning as it occurs.

Finding Meaning in Real Time

Someday when we’re dreaming,
Deep in love, not a lot to say.
Then we will remember
Things we said today.

When the “money shots” are happening — the fresh excitement of vacations, the euphoria of new love — it is easy to spot the profound and memorable.

But to locate that thread of meaning in your life as it is at this moment, with its little worries, mental chatter, bizarre details, and unremarkable dialogues, is quite an art indeed.

A good place to start is to look at the people in your life, the whole cast that happens to be playing a part in your reality as it is this moment. The bit players — the passing acquaintances, friends of friends and casual co-workers that just happen to be on the roster right now — do add much of the color and character to life. It’s the long-term people, though, whose long-term meaning in your life can be most easily found in the present. But only when you look for it.

This is a bit of a somber exercise, but it’s very powerful:

When you are with your spouse, significant other, best friend or a close relative, picture the moment, in all its mundane detail, as if you’re looking back on it from a point in life where that person is no longer around. No need to imagine any upsetting explanations for their absence; the part of your life that includes that special person is just over, and you are happy to have been with them while your lives overlapped.

Observe them as if you’ve been shipped back from the future, to see them once again on an ordinary day, with absolutely no reason to take it for granted.

You will probably feel a heavy sensation of gratitude, and you’ll find it difficult not to pay attention to the things that were said today.


Photos by David Cain and A whisper of unremitting demand


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Eric November 30, 2009 at 1:49 pm

My best memories all include people that I’ve spent time with. One of my best is a vacation I took with my wife over the Christmas holidays a number of years ago. We just gave up or postponed the usual family Christmas activites and ventured out on our own. It was a wonder time spent with just the two of us. I love to sit and think about memories sometimes. It’s definately a great exercise in grattitude.
.-= Eric´s last blog ..WIN a $25 Amazon Gift Card! 5 Weeks of Contests, 5 Chances to WIN. Week 3 =-.

David December 1, 2009 at 2:08 am

Absolutely. So much can happen in a day, let alone a whole lifetime. Our pasts are full of reasons to be grateful.

Lisis November 30, 2009 at 5:21 pm

Beautiful, David, and so true. When I think back on the moments I share with those who are not around today, it’s the little things that stand out… a word of encouragement, a moment in time, a seemingly unimportant, totally ordinary day. I would love to have some of those back, but that’s not an option, is it?

All I can do today is make the most of the moments I have with those who are in my life now so that, when the time comes, and we go our separate ways, I will have a clear conscience and know I appreciated every little thing… like finding a dirty sock balled up behind the couch… again. ;)
.-= Lisis´s last blog ..Adventure? Feeling Trapped in My Lovely Cocoon =-.

David December 1, 2009 at 2:13 am

Yes, yes, always the little things. The little things are the big things. I’m not even sure what the ‘big’ things are :)

It’s always so good to hear from you Lisis. Your wisdom radiates through the screen at me.

Roberta November 30, 2009 at 8:15 pm

love the post and I second everything everyone said!
.-= Roberta´s last blog ..OH: Are we going to get married or what? =-.

David December 1, 2009 at 2:13 am

Thanks Roberta

Meg at Demanding Joy November 30, 2009 at 8:32 pm

Wow. As I read this post, I looked over at my husband. The chaos of this day melted away and my sense of gratitude is indeed heavy. Thank you for this.
.-= Meg at Demanding Joy´s last blog ..How to Please a Husband =-.

David December 1, 2009 at 2:15 am

Aw. It warms me to hear that.

Patty - Why Not Start Now? December 1, 2009 at 1:51 am

David, your words today truly moved me. They’ve brought me home to something within myself. It’s a physical sensation I can’t quite articulate. And I can’t think of any better background music than that particular Beatles song. Thank you.
.-= Patty – Why Not Start Now?´s last blog ..Retracing My Steps =-.

David December 1, 2009 at 2:16 am

Oh good! Hard-to-articulate sensations are what I live for, yet I try in vain to articulate them. I’m glad the post struck something in you. Thanks for your comment Patty.

Twan December 1, 2009 at 8:30 am

“Big things” don’t happen without the culmination of many “little things”. The “big” emotion or event then selfishly hogs all the mental capacity for memory retention and drowns out the rest. To depart from this is like seeing the forest for the trees. Not always easy but infinitely rewarding.
.-= Twan´s last blog ..What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been =-.

David December 1, 2009 at 8:46 pm

Very well put.
.-= David´s last blog ..Things We Said Today =-.

Brenda (betaphi) December 1, 2009 at 5:20 pm

Hi David
Funny synchronicity here. As I’m writing this, my son’s Beatles files are simultaneously being transferred to my new computer. He flies back to San Francisco tomorrow, leaving me with every song the Beatles recorded and some live concerts too. I’ll probably remember reading this post as I listen to the music and reflect on how precious our time together was this week. I love little coincidences like this one. I also love Windows 7 and you. :)

David December 1, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Wow, it’s nice to be up there with the likes of the Beatles and Windows 7 ;)

Char (PSI Tutor:Mentor) December 1, 2009 at 5:34 pm

People often comment that I am a happy contented person~ I’d say it’s because I practice the meditation you suggested. I am so fortune to be alive at the same time as those I meet, am related to or strike up friendships with.

When I snorkle, I want to not be moving too much or making too much noise~ the reef then shows itself in all its splendor. People are like this too methinks~ amazing!~ when given the opportunity to show themselves, and to be appreciated for just who they are at that moment.

Methinks we do see these bag-blowing-in-the-wind moments, though not all of us “see” them as moments that can give our lives deeper meaning.

David December 1, 2009 at 8:49 pm

I am so fortune to be alive at the same time as those I meet

What a great perspective. I never quite thought of it that way, but it’s so true.

I love your snorkeling analogy too, thanks Char.

Erin December 2, 2009 at 11:14 am

I have always loved that song!

Sometimes we are involved in a life changing experience, and don’t know it until later. I have wished I could remember each detail more vividly. You are pursuing the life changing experiences and clearly you are savoring each moment. That rocks!
.-= Erin´s last blog ..Advent =-.

David December 2, 2009 at 7:30 pm

It seems that it’s easier to remember moments in which we are really paying attention. But I’ve also noticed that memories, as nice as they can be, are very poor facsimiles for a real experience. Even a day later, so much has been lost forever.

Emil December 15, 2009 at 5:17 am

David, you captured these thoughts very well. Each one of us has one of these moments that stick in our mind in a beautiful place from where we can retrieve the memories almost intact. Sometimes these moments just come to us out of nowhere and catch us in an emotional state when we are ready to see them and absorb the experience. You are right when you say that we have many more moments like these but we do not see them. I think Churchill was the one that said we do not value our posessions until we loose them (or something like this). Your proposed mental journey into the future and back is a good way of valuing the life as it happens because it is a gift we refuse to appreciate. Nice article,

David December 15, 2009 at 7:03 pm

Thank you Emil. You’ve reminded me to make a special point of enjoying the rest of the day, even though I’m just running errands.
.-= David´s last blog ..Nature’s Dominant Creature =-.

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