Perfect Moments in Time and Space & My Quest to Find Them

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Perfect Moments.

That’s what I call those weird mystical supernatural time-stop moments when everything you are and everything you dreamed of having or being come together.

One thing to understand about me is that I’m a child of the 50’s who was raised in a very small town in a modest Catholic family. We did not travel outside of Washington State for the most part,  but I so longed to. I lived my fantasy travel life inside the pages of National Geographic magazine, and on the ship with Magellan in my second grade classroom. For me, there was nothing more desirable than heading into the Congo to work with Dr. Albert Schweitzer. And I was only 8 years old.

Because I came out of the womb wanting to travel, I have only experienced perfect moments through my journeys to far-off places, places outside my comfort zone: Machu Picchu in 1978, Israel in 1980, the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1985, and Haiti in 1989. The list does go on a bit: India, Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka, Mallorca. There were perfect moments in all these places.

To have traveled so extensively in my adult life is to have fulfilled my soul’s deepest desire. And during these many travels, I have had, on just a few occasions, these transcendental experiences, which I term “perfect moments.” Perhaps you’ve had them as well.

One example of a perfect moment?

Haiti, 1990. I am teaching at a little school outside Port-au-Prince. 16 children. 16 different ages. Snakes in the bushes. No books. No phone. No car. No electricity. No classroom!

Why I ended up in this bizarre situation is an entirely different story, but suffice it to say it was a crazy set up indeed.

As you may remember, or not, Haiti’s government had been a dictatorship under the Duvaliers, Papa Doc and then his son, Baby Doc, and the soldiers of the dreaded Tonton Macoute. And though their reign officially ended in 1986 under pressure from the U.S, the soldiers of the Tonton Macoute continued to wield power and wreck havoc among the Haitian people.

In 1990, a young priest, Jean Bertrand Aristide, rose up promising to lead the people to a more democratic society, and I happened to be there when things started to go south. So I immediately packed up my things and asked a friend with a car to take me into the city so I could catch a flight home. This was no place for a single American woman with a two-year old child.

So how is that a perfect moment, you might ask. 

Let me continue.

So there I was in Haiti, fleeing in a way. My friend found me a little hotel in Port-au-Prince, and offered to take me to dinner at the restaurant in the Hotel Oloffson in the heart of the city for my last supper. This hotel also happens to be one of the actual settings for Graham Green’s novel The Comedians, a prize-winning novel about Papa Doc and the Tonton Macoute.

At the restaurant, wild costumed dancers entertained us. It felt a bit colonial to me, but it was “exotic,” and I loved it.

An older Black gentleman, exquisitely dressed, approached our table and took the tiny hand of my two-year-old daughter and said, “Bon soir  Mademoiselle,”  “Good Evening.” Why he approached us, I don’t know, but he proceeded to charm her, and me.

After he left, my friend told me Graham Greene had based one of his characters in The Comedians on this very man!

“Curioser and curioser,” as Alice would say.

We were then interrupted by a raucous gathering outside the restaurant. We left our seats to find a parade passing by below the grand patio of this historic hotel. It was the end of February and the exact day of Mardi Gras! What timing!

And to top it off? Yes, there’s just one more serendipitous detail:

It was a full-on full moon night!

Could it get more perfect? That would be difficult.

I remember returning to my hotel room that night and putting my daughter to bed. We would catch a flight to Seattle the next morning. I went out on the little patio to have one last beer with my friend who was saving me.

Looking up at the moon, I distinctly remember thinking what a crazy, wild, incredible and very, very perfect moment this was for this 1950’s child from Port Orchard, Washington who wanted desperately to travel the world.

I have had a few other perfect moments in distant places, and I live for more of them.

But this one comes back to me again and again.

 

Power to the Journey

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