I want to talk about peak experiences, those moments in my life when I was fully aware, not only of my immediate surroundings, but where I was in the kaleidoscope of my life, how I got there, and how lucky and blessed I was. This awareness was accompanied by a sweet happiness, and a feeling there was nothing more I needed in my life, and nothing more I needed to do in my life.
I think readers know what I am talking about. I am not an expert in peak experiences. I haven’t had very many. But there are two moments in particular that I want to talk about.
The first involved my work. I’m a social worker licensed by the state I work and live in. I am a professional friend to troubled people: those who are mentally ill, chemically dependent, criminals. You know, the “low lifes.”
I meet them where they are at and relate to them in a simple, genuine way that is also meant to be disarming. I’m good at getting to know people, getting them to give me information about themselves. Then I sift through the falsities and delusions for what is genuine. That can take a while.
Anyway, I was in the office on the fourth floor of the building we worked in the downtown area of St. Paul. It was a sunny afternoon. Many of my office mates were out in the field with clients. There were a few who were documenting their activities and chatting quietly. I was standing near my desk, where there was a large floor to ceiling window. Outside the window was moving traffic and people in the park across the street.
Then the first moment happened. It was a feeling of time standing still, a merging of the ancient and the new. I felt grateful for the career I fell into. My work helped me find myself and sometimes even fix myself. And I felt a feeling of fulfillment in a larger, spiritual sense. Everything around me, including me, was very precious – and temporary. I had a premonition that everything was going to end, this was all going to change, and that was okay too. So I embraced and said goodbye to a part of my life that was fortunate, hard earned, and grace filled.
At the time I was a practicing Catholic, married, and not using birth control. We were stringently traditional Catholics who ended up having seven children. Six from the marriage, and one child born out of wedlock – you know, before we were stringent traditionalists. The more kids we added the fuller and happier we became, until everything fell apart.
The second moment happened shortly after the first moment. I came home from work and my daughters were sitting on couches in the living room. Out of nowhere we began chatting in a most comfortable and pleasing way: gentle conversation about nothing in particular; the words and the topics were secondary to the love and sweetness that accompanied our verbal soundings to each other.
I felt a delicious closeness to my children, a sweet and simple feeling of belonging to them, and with them. Looking at there smiling faces, l couldn’t imagine feeling any better. I was fully present in the moment, and yet above and beyond it too. I sensed a feeling of good-bye more fleeting than the good-bye I felt at work.
Both moments I felt wonderful and fulfilled, in my career and in my family. A pair of high water marks whose meaning was, perhaps, that this is as good as it gets in your life. So mark it well, for you may never see it again. And sure enough, for the next ten plus years I was submerged in undreamed of misery and agony.
But nothing lasts forever. The expression “This too shall pass” applies to good times and bad times. Ten plus years after the two high water marks, and a decade of hate and despair, I note another one. I just witnessed a snapping towel fight between my youngest son and daughter. It was all in good fun after dishes were washed, dried, and put away. They were laughing and joking and running around the kitchen snapping towels at each other. Totally unself-conscious and goofy. I was a silent observer and did not intervene even when things got loud, because I sensed this too was a special moment, not directly involving me, yet something I might remember in ten years when my two towel snapping teenagers have fully entered the real world of commerce and broken hearts.
So maybe this was a moment too, a recollection of just how lucky parts of my life are. When I was looking back on the moments I felt regret and sadness, loss. But the dream comes and the dream goes. That has been the lesson of my adult life. I lived the dream, I lived my dream life and I was aware of it while it was happening. It gave me lightness and quiet joy. I felt close to God and close to myself. I got recognition from my colleagues and from the clients it was my honor to serve.
Then things changed and life got much more difficult at home and at work. Consolations disappeared. Negative epiphanies abounded. Belief in God’s goodness slipped like sand through my fingers. Yet at long last all that seems behind me. A new life has emerged from old dreams and living nightmares. I embrace it, and whisper: This too shall pass.