Little Moments of Inexplicable Joy

There’s a magic in seeing the cherry blossoms in Tennessee: not there one day, there the next.

For three years, my residency in the Nashville neighborhood of Germantown overlapped with the celebration of Oktoberfest. On one glorious October weekend, with the leaves in full autumnal bloom and the weather still cooling off from summer, the otherwise mundane streets of my neighborhood would transform overnight into a festival.

Some years, it was literally outside my doorstep. Festival-goers sat on my stoop, drinking steins of lager and eating bratwursts. Cheesy tracks of polka music wafted in through my window (except when the karaoke booth was set up, when the waft brought in out-of-tune country standards). If I wanted dinner or social interaction, I just walked outside.

I loved it.

But what I loved even more were the moments of relative solitude. Late into the evening, a handful of stragglers would be finishing their beers and ambling back to their cars, or wherever they were going. Vendors would be zipping covers over their booths, slowly, as if they were still waiting for one last customer to come by. I’d wander back home, taking care to walk in the very middle of the car-less streets, and I’d pretend this was a party of one: a festival thrown just for me.

How can I describe why this kind of moment is so meaningful to me? The fact is, there are a lot of moments that make me feel incredibly lucky to be alive, and this kind isn’t nearly as glamorous as the others.

For example: You’ve got your moments of exhilaration, like nailing a fiddle solo in front of an audience or riding on a roller coaster. Or: anything that makes you feel overcome with pure joy (laughing through Thanksgiving dinners with family, jamming with friends).

But this kind of moment isn’t quite either. It’s quieter, more ineffable, but because of that it feels a little more magical. You aren’t overcome by it, and you likely aren’t even participating in it. It is happening around you and you just get to be there at the right time. To see the sunset that makes you gasp. Or to witness the moment when the street lights turn on. The exact moment. I know that’s not particularly significant, but still — it blows me away sometimes. What if I were looking away right then? How lucky am I to have seen it?

Last summer, after taking myself to the symphony, I walked through downtown Nashville on my way home. I stopped at a hot dog stand on Broadway (my guilty pleasure snack) and found a bench away from the noise. It was in front of a swanky law office high rise and set back behind some bushes: the perfect place to people-watch late at night. No one walking by noticed a single woman eating a hot dog a few feet away.

As I sat, I thought about these moments of magic and how easy they are to miss. You could pass them every day and never appreciate their magnitude. Perhaps I do pass them by most of the time without realizing. Perhaps we have to train ourselves to notice these things, looking around and waiting for them instead of staring at our phones, or feeling rushed, or simply not caring to see them.

I finished my hotdog and folded the foil wrapper into my napkin. I stared out at the couples and friends walking to Broadway. A bell chimed somewhere.

At that exact moment, water started spurting out of the ground next to me. It was a sprinkler system to keep the bushes watered. Someone, at some point, had scheduled it to go off at a time when no one would be looking. I checked my watch: midnight.

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