Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art
Life is not always kind. We don't always get what we want. We don't even get what our parents want for us, which would at least make them happy. Sometimes everything goes south at once: The longed-for love doesn't show up or goes away; the dream job is given to an inexperienced, two-faced brown-noser; the dog dies; the sink clogs; the snap of your jeans pops open when you bend down to pick up the hefty stack of bills on the mat and you're left standing there, thinking, "The best part of my run was back when I was 25. From here on out, I just have to slog through."
Which is exactly when you must remember a little secret that I am about to share with you. All of us—even the bleakest and unluckiest of us—get seven particular moments, those brief, unexpected times when the stars do more than align; they communally redirect their light expressly to illuminate the value of our wee, earthly existence.
These moments sometimes go unnoticed and are almost always unexpected. They are not subject to the vicissitudes of your success or failure. They are not something you can blame yourself for not experiencing sooner or flog yourself into experiencing now. They are on their own time schedule. They have happened to you or will happen to you sooner or later. The key is not letting them slip by uncelebrated.
1. You (senselessly) win.
You toss your business card into a bowl at a Chinese restaurant and win six free egg rolls every month for one entire year. Or you pick up the phone and hear a stranger asking you the names of all four Beatles, which you know and then recite to him, prompting him to scream out to his radio audience that you are the proud new owner of a KitchenAid dishwasher.
This feeling is not the same as winning at a craps table or a Lotto drawing. This is about a windfall without effort, a windfall that you're not even sure you want—say, a deluxe all-expenses-paid trip to Hackensack, New Jersey—but that fills you with great, swelling joy at getting something undreamed of for free, something only you get to get.
2. You're seen.
It happens without fanfare. Someone somewhere looks across the room and sees past the face your family gave you. They also see past the face you put on over that face, the one composed of TV gestures (a hint: you were not born doing any kind of hair flipping) and mysterious magazine-made smiles and the smooth, dull, blank look that overtakes our eyes when we decide we will not cry, not in front of other people.
This someone sees you; down to your intelligence, your fear of being alone and your ability to whistle on pitch. It might be the teacher who asks if you would do her the honor of passing out the graham crackers today at recess. It might be the grocery-store manager who spots your bag breaking at the exit—your eggs and yogurt splashing all over the door, your whole horrible, failing marriage spattered all over your frozen expression—and runs up and down the aisles, filling a new bag with unbroken items, plus tosses in a bouquet of flowers just to cheer you up. It might even be the friend who thinks the way you snort-laugh is charming. There is somebody out there who gets it—it being you.
3. You get the opportunity to learn about something bigger than yourself.
I know what this one sounds like: You get to go through something horrible and wrenching, and then we'll pretend there is some kind of silver lining. But that's not what I mean. I'm talking about the awakening of grace, the time in life when you first begin to accrue the kind of wisdom that will allow you to feel for a friend when she has lost a father or gotten separated, not because you have lost a father or gotten separated but because you have lost someone or something and the experience opened a door of genuine understanding. You are now able to hold hands with another person and connect with them at the very time they feel most alone.