A Moment, Please

A moment please

The sage said, In every moment is an eternity. Life exists only in the present.

Imagine two men, one younger, one older, walking along different parts of the same street in a city. The younger man is worried. He is late for an appointment with a customer who has proven to be difficult in the past. The younger man’s tardiness will not bode well. Back at home, his 5-year-old woke up that morning with a roaring bout of stomachache and nausea, and the man’s wife – also an executive in a company in that city – made it no secret that she resented him unloading the son’s care on her, noting that her day was even busier than his. But he persuaded her that this morning’s meeting was pivotal, that he believed much of his work fortunes depended upon its outcome, and that he simply did not have the time to stay and care for their sick son. After much debate he prevailed, and now he was late. He quickened his step to a brisk trot.

Meanwhile, the older man, walking on the same street in the same city, is walking slower. As he moves along the sidewalk, he feels the tension in his legs as it alternates to propel him forward. He feels with satisfaction the air moving around him in a slight breeze, hears the mechanical arithmetic in the sounds of the cars. He pauses and looks up at the gravid brilliance of the sunlit sky. He smiles, looks back to the people on the walk, and continues on his way. He is walking to a small store – a bodega – where he will buy a cup of their strong coffee.

The younger man finally reaches the door of the meeting room and bursts through it with a gush of apologies and a rustle of files. Everyone else is there, and seated, and the young man notes with dismal certainty that the client is frowning. As he finds his chair and begins his presentation without fully settling himself down, the young man’s mind hosts a subroutine of thought that runs along an alternate course of reality: His young son woke up without being sick. Or he got out of the house sooner because his wife was more agreeable. Or he himself was not the one in his company whose duties included dealing with this cranky client. He runs this unreal gauntlet even as his voice fills the conference room and the glaring customer looks on.

With his coffee in hand, the older man finds a seat on a bench along the sidewalk. The sun warms him; time slows down as the present moment expands in a sphere that soon envelops his surroundings as he sits. He sees the steam rising ever more slowly over the rim of the paper cup as he raises it to his lips to blow on the hot coffee. The pace of the people on the sidewalk slows. The slap-slapping of pigeons flying becomes much less urgent and ultimately stops. The older man looks up at the birds, suspended as if on a string in midair. The people on the sidewalk have stopped walking and seem to balance in the middle of their haste on one tiptoed foot, or to be fully suspended above the pavement, anxiously rushing to catch a bus and appearing to float above the cement. For its part, the bus has ceased to make any noise and stands silent at the curb, its passengers, visible through its windows, lost as they rush to catch a glimpse of some far-off meaningful moment. The older man smiles as he sips his coffee.

A day, a year, an eternity is in every moment, said the sage. And that moment is all life is.

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