Snow falling on a field of dream-scented scarlet poppies; a gold river that sings when you swirl your fingers in it; a gargoyle breathing sweet, warm breath onto a girl’s hands to help her grip better as she climbs a cliff. Do you remember snippets and side-views like these in your favorite books that resonated through your soul, even though they weren’t always critical to the plot? Not just the crescendo of a good climax or the satisfaction of a happy ending, but tucked-away moments of delight, like green hills you see rushing past through train windows?
As a bookworm kid, I would read on my bed with a warm, purring cat tucked in the crook of my arm. I read my favorite books over and over, relishing these sweet moments of non-essential beauty like stray raindrops on green leaves.
William Wordsworth was a Romantic poet who loved nature, linked joy to goodness, and thought children had a special vision of transcendence. He talked of moments he called “spots of time” which “retain / renovating virtue,” and by which “our minds / Are nourished and invisibly repaired” (Wordsworth’s Prelude, 11.258, 259-260, 264-265).
My favorite story-moments act like these spots of time, nourishing and repairing my senses after cramming textbooks of information into my head in high school or sitting for long, gray hours at my first office job. They blossomed as daydreams and desires as I watched purgatorial lines shuffle forward at the DMV or heat shimmer over cars in traffic jams. Moments like Princess Irene’s magical moon-bath in The Princess and the Goblin, Meg Murray’s tessering with Progo the cherubim in A Wind in the Door, or Pippin’s sense that that “the world rolled away beneath his feet” on Shadowfax’s back in The Two Towers usually don’t have utilitarian value in the story; they’re just fun, or exciting, or lovely.
Technically, I’m not sure these story-moments count as Wordsworth’s spots of time. He portrayed his epiphanies as happening in scenes of solitude, silence, and exquisite natural beauty, like seeing the moon over a sea of mist in the mountains, or a dark cliff rearing up to block out the stars. However, these side-glances into beauty trained me to look for moments of delight in my own life and identify them, joyfully, as times when my days felt “just like a story.”
Autumn 2005: In the art classroom, the teacher pinned up pictures of famous art all over the room, including Frederic Erwin Church’s “River of Light” directly over the whiteboard. All year, I gazed at that picture as much as I could, as if hypnotized: the jungle-trees dark and green and the sun’s fierce, shimmering reflection in the river. It didn’t apply directly to the art lessons or inspire me to greatness as a visual artist; it was just a side-view that filled me with yearning.
June 2009: my church youth group was helping clean and prepare a camp for its summer programs. I had finally found a half-empty bottle of WD 40 in the old toolshed by the soccer field. I closed the door, turned, and saw, through the woods that bordered the property, a white farmhouse on the river with a weeping willow tree in its green lawn. It had a dock with a motorboat tethered to it, bobbing gently in the current. It was only a brief glimpse in a busy day, with no character-shaping experience or deep philosophical insight I could express, but the sight haunted me.
December 2017: I walked out of my office’s back door braced for that winter’s subzero temperatures, which seared my skin and burned in my throat. Through the leafless trees behind the building, I saw the sun set in blazing white, soft blue, pale pink, and a hint of gold, clear and stark. I exhaled a misty puff of breath and stared for a moment, caught, before turning away to go scrape off my car and drive home.
Amber-frozen moments of beauty and stillness like these rested and refreshed me on slushy March days or driving back from painful job interviews.
This feels like a story. I say that less often now; it’s sweeter just to feel it. But I realize now what I learned in side-views and brief glances: my life, which sometimes seems dull and complicated and hard, is just as rich and meaningful as a story – because it is a story. I could classify them as distractions or daydreams, but maybe they’re more like reminders, memories or omens that remind me of the road I’m really walking,
“. . . the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.” C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters
Featured image by timolina