000 Prologue: Valued Moments

I’d like to begin a conversation with you
about how we live
and whether we could do it better
It’s a bit of a one sided conversation
because I’m writing
and you’re reading
and although
you can react to me
I can only guess at your response
and I’m probably wrong
and your “hang on a moment”
just hangs in the air
(though maybe the internet and the web
can even things up a bit)
It’s a peculiar conversation in another sense
because it’s also a conversation with myself
Even though I have been thinking about a lot of the stuff
I want to talk with you about
for many years
even before you were born)
I still have more questions than answers
and even the answers
are still provisional and tentative
So I am writing as much in the mode of discovery
as I am in the mode of presentation
Despite all this
I still like the idea of conversations
because they are
of this moment
open to change
if they’re any good
can take you to places you didn’t know you were going
even though this may be an odd set of conversations
you and I will find ourselves
at different places from where we started
through engaging with these words on a page
A little like
a time
a place
I found myself some years ago
For those of you who can remember
the time was two weeks before
NATO started to bomb the country we used to call Yugoslavia
and the place was just outside a town called Ohrid
in the south of the Former Republic of Yugoslavia Macedonia
(or as the international bureaucrats say FRY Macedonia)
It was 4.30 in the morning
still dark
stars shining in a wide open clear dark sky
Until a few minutes earlier
we’d been dancing
the music blasting out of the speakers
until the police came and closed the place down
So there we were standing in the car park in the DiscoPark just outside Ohrid
a mobile military hospital parked a few hundred metres up the road
the words of a jolly Macedonian Serb journalist
still reverberating in my mind
serious for a moment
a few days earlier after an evening drinking in a Jazz bar
“The Serbs won’t stop”
he said
and he was right
but we didn’t know it then
as we stood waiting for our taxi to come
Around us a bustle of young Macedonians
mobile phones going
deciding what to do next
go home and go to sleep?
find some other way of continuing to party?
And the taxis and cars
came and went
and we stood there
enjoying the scene
in no hurry for our taxi to come
to take us back to the hotel
for a few hours sleep
before the journey back to Skopje
and the plane to take us back to London
and our familiar lives
Looking around me
and thinking of the party
and the previous week
and all we had experienced
and the people we had met
and worked with
and laughed with
and talked with
and dreamed with
I turned to my friend and colleague and said
?Isn?t this bizarre. Who could have predicted that we?d be standing in the DiscoPark outside Ohrid at 4.30 in the morning, even a short time ago??
in some ways
there was nothing strange about that moment at all
Unpredictable things often happen
The other day
I met the ex-girlfriend of my nephew
at Kings Cross station
A chance encounter
but nothing exceptional
but nothing unusual
The kind of thing that happens as part of a routine life
That moment in Macedonia was different
It was a connective moment
A node in time that linked
the web of events in my life
to a wide web of events
A recognition that the world is filled with more possibilities
than we can imagine
An acknowledgment that life can be richer
and more varied
and more filled with hope and wonder
than our experience of the routines of everyday life
sometime allows
That moment of standing there in the dark
feeling so alive
so connected
resonates in my memory
I found myself being drawn back there
over and over again
The moment was unpredictable
but it made sense
it wasn’t just a random happenstance
Looking back over my life
I could trace how I got there
That thread
some thirty or so years earlier
I was at a party
The host asked someone to get me out of there
and I ended up sleeping on a kitchen floor
with three hairy dogs
and the woman who rescued me
asleep in her room next door
We fell in love
lived together
(got married and divorced)
and changed the course and direction of my life
so that years later
there I was standing in the car park in the DiscoPark just outside Ohrid
A pattern of events that makes sense
in retrospect
A pattern of events that by their nature
was unpredictable
of course
with a few
tiny alterations
along the way
could have meant
that at 4.30 in the morning on that day
at that time
I could have been somewhere completely different
All of which
brings me
to what this conversation is about
That moment in Macedonia
was a connective moment
but equally important
it was a valued moment
A point in time when I felt vividly alive
On that trip there were many such moments
It helps that I was in a strange land
a place unfamiliar to me
somewhere I had scarcely been aware of
until a few weeks earlier
It also helped that the trip was filled with surprises
the spring like weather
the beauty of the place
the intensity of our collective experience
the changes we all went through
The strange and the unexpected
often jolts us out of the numbness of everyday routines
and enable us to meet
those moments we value
even in the quiet moments
of everyday routine
we can
find valued moments
Even in the most familiar circumstance
that flash of value
as we experience
the beauty of a shadow on a wall
the taste of a mouthful food
the conversation that takes us to places we didn’t expect
the piece of work well done
the expression of love that penetrates our deepest being
even moments of intense grief
or loss
can be moments where we are paying full attention
to the wonder of our being
I began this conversation by asking
about how we live
and whether we could do it better
And here I come to a tentative answer
to my own question
Yes I believe we could live our lives more fully
but what does that mean
It means I think
a life more filled with valued moments
Some fourteen years ago or so
I was sitting with my son
at that time a very young child
when I had an epiphany
For much of my life
I had feared death
and had struggled with the intransience of life
Even in the moments I was enjoying myself
I was conscious that
the moment would pass
slipping through my hands
and be gone forever
My life was dominated
a kind of discontent
an inability
to really experience now
a life lived
in a future that still hadn’t happened
a past which couldn’t be undone
A way of living
I suspect
that is not uncommon
A way of life
which we cope with
by anesthetizing ourselves
against our knowledge
of how precarious our lives are
and the inevitability of mortality
But then sitting on a pile of cushions with my son
tuned into his rhythm
and pace
Just being in the here and a now
I suddenly had a taste of infinity
A realisation that nothing that happened
nothing that was experienced
could ever be destroyed
of course
this is true for everything we experience
It is all indestructible
I can’t help feeling
valued moments
are a better connection with the infinite
busy moments
lived for what they will achieve
for what they will get us
for where they will move us to in the ladder of ambition
I remember another moment
sitting with my friend
who knew she was to die
from the melanoma that riddled her system
sitting in my kitchen
the garden outside
bright with sunlight
and talking
about how her impending death
made her value
whatever time she had left
all the more
and how
she tried to live
a life
where what was important to her
her children
her husband
her family
the every day business of being
everything she valued was given prominence
and where much of the nonsense
that fills our lives
was put to one side
There was a truth to that part of her life
for all of us
each day may be our last
The motorcyclist who doesn’t see the car door open
The child walking to the market when the sniper’s bullet strikes
All the arbitrary incidents which mark our frailty
And yet we are infinite in our transience
and this is what I want to talk with you about
a way of being that offers a greater possibility
of valued moments
An approach to life I call
purposive drift
I make no claims to live my life this way
Sometimes I do
Sometimes I don’t
Like all of us I am prey to the same stupidities
the same vanities
the same fears
the same loss of nerve
the same desire for an anesthetized life
But over the years
the promise of purposive drift
has grown
It seems to make sense
and in the following pages
the sense it makes
is what I want to share with you
to see if my experience
connects with your experience
and whether
this conversation
will take us both to place
that neither of us expected