Monday, September 28, 2009


On Saturday night (at a rather spiffy Best Western in Tours), my friends had gone out to a bar and I decided to stay in and listen to podcasts. I watched a 4 minute piece called "moments" from a favorite publication of mine called "radio lab." It asked the question "How do you define a moment?" Really. Exactly. What is a moment? The entire four minutes flipped through a montage of "moments," never more than two seconds, in which normal people did normal things. Baby, eating, sad, splashing in puddles, happy, working, etc. Nothing profound, but endearing and well-filmed.

The question stuck. Moments are bizarre and special and difficult to define. Interestingly, in the English language, a "moment" is usually quick - a snapshot - like in the short. In French, a "moment" is the full length of an occurrence. For example, if you talked to your friend for "a moment," that could mean you had a brief chat, or it could mean you spent the entire afternoon in deep philosophical conversation. I personally like the French usage better, because in fact, our lives are not made of quick, individual snapshots. They are series of related occurrences of varying lengths. But I digress...

The short about "moments" led me to a realization. Bear with me.

The meaning of life is a complicated issue. What interests me more than that infinite abyss is the question, "how is meaning measured within a life?" I'm sure everyone measures the meaningfulness of their lives in different ways. Some don't at all, some measure by piety, some by having children, who knows. But moments are something that we all use as a measure of meaning in our lives. The thing we remember at the end of our lives is a scrapbook of the best, worst, and most important moments. Photographs are important to us because they represent physical relics of moments long past, which can only exist through memory.

I was never quite sure why I wanted to go to France so badly, or study abroad at all. This whole thing about moments has helped me clarify. Trying on a new culture, doing new things and going new places leads to more intense, more profound moments. It creates memories which will be stronger and longer lasting (like minty fresh gum!). When I am 80, the walk from Talbot house to class on Smith campus will be less less memorable than the walk along the Seine I take every day to get the Metro. Rollerblading to work in San Mateo, California will have been completely forgotten, but rollerblading in a brigade of 15,000 in the night through the streets of Paris is something I will never forget.

I think one of the reasons I get so frustrated with tourism, or the whole Paris experience in general, is that I think, "This is supposed to be important. This is supposed to be special," when it doesn't feel profound. I think when I look back next year, and recount the moments, then they will become important. I also think I'm rambling.

Conclusion: I need to sit back and relax, stop worrying about the profundity of each moment of my life here, and let the important moments come out as they happen, naturally. Moments are to be appreciated in the future. Simply living is what I'm supposed to be doing right now.

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