Editors' note: Nora Ephron passed away June 26, 2012, at 71. She was a longtime friend of this magazine, and this essay shows her trademark thoughtfulness and wit. (And here are two more of her pieces—about the maintenance that comes with aging and the 6 books that send her into a state of rapture.)
This Aha! moment is probably going to seem like no big deal. And there are probably all sorts of Aha! moments I should be writing about instead.

Like the Aha! moment when I realized that life is too short to break up with your friends.

Or the Aha! moment when I realized I should eat more cheese.

(The "eat more cheese" Aha! moment took place on an airplane about ten years ago. It was right before New Year's, and I'd been thinking about my resolutions for the next year. Suddenly, I was served a plate of cheese. It reminded me of how much I loved cheese. So I resolved to eat more of it, and I pretty much have. Presumably this is not a true Aha! moment, yet it was a blinding insight about something that would improve my life, and it has.)

Anyway, here is the moment I truly think of as my own favorite Aha! But before I tell it, a little background.

I'm very bossy. What's more, I'm good at solving problems, and when I see a problem that isn't being solved, I'm only too happy to step in. But all that changed one night about 15 years ago when I went to a small screening for a movie. I was sitting in my seat before the movie began, and as the room filled up, it became clear that there were not going to be enough seats. People were bunching up in the aisles and looking around helplessly. I was sitting next to my friend Bob Gottlieb, watching all this. Finally, I couldn't stand it another second. I turned to Bob and I said, "It's really very simple. Someone should go get some folding chairs and set them up in the aisles."

Bob looked at me. "Nora," he said. "We can't do everything."

What an epiphany! What a shimmering moment! Had we been outdoors, I would now remember whether the day was hot or cold, and where the light was coming from, that's how amazing it was; but since we were in a dark, crowded screening room that was becoming more crowded by the second, all I can remember is that my brain cleared in an amazing way. We can't do everything. I was overcome. I had been given the secret of life.

Now I am not going to tell you that from that day forth I never again interfered, or bossed anyone around, or stepped in with a solution that was not remotely necessary. But every year there are truly dozens of times that I watch things go wrong, and I say to myself, "Nora, we can't do everything." You would be amazed at how often things sort themselves out without any help from me whatsoever.

More Aha! Moments


Next Story