moon painting
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.

4. You're spared.

Prior to the age of seatbelts, you were a baby crawling around in the back of a station wagon and the door opened. You didn't fall out. Or later on, you were reaching for a distant leaf in the gutter, tumbled off the roof and landed without a scratch in the pachysandra. You didn't die. In other words, you did get the chance to live.

5. Somebody comes back.

One of the worst things in life is that people leave—and worse, they leave you with the feeling that (1) you didn't do the thing required to make them stay, or (2) you did the thing that made them go, or (3) if time stopped, you would leave instead and make them feel all the terrible, painful crap you're currently feeling. But at some point, one of those leave-ers comes back. Maybe they want to start over. Maybe they want to say they're sorry. Maybe they want to say hi. Or...maybe they just want to move down the block and yell at their bleached, Botoxed wife at dinner parties—allowing you to kiss the ground with gladness that they did not ask you to marry them your senior year of college.

6. You are right.

So many times in life we are right and wish we weren't (You're going to lose your job! Your mother is coming between us!). And then there are the glorious, life-affirming moments, such as when I told my father the glue stick was not a ChapStick...and he chose to disagree with me.

7. You're loved.

Love seems to be a given. It seems so obvious. All these people are in your life with the responsibility to love you: parents, brothers, spouses, nieces, babies, friends. A few will fail you, but most won't. And yet each time they express that love, it's unique. It's so insanely specific, what the other will adore about you and what you will adore about him (or her).

Who loved or loves or will love you? The guy (or girl) who left an anonymous note on your car in 12th grade? The kitten in a shoebox you stumbled on at the garbage dump? The funny, laid-back, occasionally loud man—perfect for you; you're occasionally hard of hearing—you haven't met yet but will?

It may be that you haven't had all seven of these moments yet. But the odds are that you have, and—here is the sweet part of the deal—it's very possible, if not extremely likely, that you will get the chance to have each of these moments over and over and over, 70 or 700 or 7 million times, but each time differently. Each time it will be new and astonishing once again.

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