I was recently on an afternoon walk on a paved pathway in the woods when I heard an owl hooting and then two woodpeckers on opposite sides of me using their jackhammer heads to drill into trees for bugs. At the end of the walk I was crossing a large, open field when I heard the sound of a waterfall or rapids. Then as I walked under the only tree in the field I realized it wasn't water, but thousands of unshed, dry leaves shaking in the gentle breeze.
In that moment I realized that my keepsake box of memories in my head and heart is filled with serendipitous moments like this: unscheduled, unprepared, unforced, unrehearsed, unanticipated moments in which life caught me off guard and tickled me or splashed water in my face or dazzled me with a grand and overlooked wonder. Like the universe is saying "are you paying attention?!"
I have another keepsake box of memories that contain the expected collection of moments and events: graduations, recitals, weddings, holidays, birthdays. These are wonderful and special and cherished. But the other box of keepsakes has a different kind of value because it contains moments that even though they happened in the ordinary flow of life, they remind me that none of this is ordinary.
We are on a chunk of space debris hurling along at several tens of thousands of miles an hour in a vast expanse with billions times billions of stars and planets and chunks of stuff, none of which, to our knowledge hosts any other life. And even if we discover there is life somewhere else, that will not reduce the wonder at all, since it will still be extraordinary.
The owl and woodpeckers have beating hearts and reproductive systems and eyes that can see far better than mine because of the uniquely adapted assortment of rods and cones. Another of the memories in this keepsake box is of sitting for a short break along a meandering mountain trail when backpacking, with an open bag of gorp, my back is sweaty from the pack. There's nothing special about the location. The view, though beautiful, isn't spectacular. Why is this in the box? I haven't a clue, but I can remember the moment. It is shuffled in among memories of holding one of my fevered children who finally has fallen asleep in my arms after an exhausting, stressful day of work; and another is of my toes burrowing into the moist sand on a beach in Texas while leading a retreat with a group of youth; and another of the rich blue sky above the green grass of the outfield at a little league baseball game.
This box of keepsake memories continues to capture moments, some of which I don't even notice when they happen. They are beyond precious or even priceless. They are simple reminders that I am, for some reason, conscious, aware, and a part of something remarkable. Out of this I derive some sense of responsibility, some obligation to be a steward, attentive to my own footprint, considerate of the simple needs others have.
It reminds me of what the Spanish poet Antonio Machado said in reference to Jesus: "All your words were one word: Wakeup."
© 2016 Stephen Carl