“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
― Frederick Buechner, Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation
As is the tradition, my parents and the closest relatives of my sister-in-law were very involved in my brother and his wife’s Hindu wedding ceremony. They sat up front with the couple and played a large role in the various rituals that the pundit facilitated, marking in an overt way the melding of not just two individuals, but two families: two ways of living, two troves of stories, two series of relationships. Several of the rituals involved the sprinkling of water, and the pundit came prepared with paper towels for the relatives to dry their hands after wetting them. One of my favorite moments of the entire wedding occurred when, as my mom dried her hands and folded the paper towel she had used, my youngest brother (not the one getting married) leaned over and whispered in my ear “Mom’s going to save that.”
It’s sort of hard for me to explain — even to myself — why that moment touched me the way it did, but I’ve thought of it often since the wedding, and I suppose that there are two main things that stand out to me.
The first is simply the fact that my mom would save a lightly used paper towel… just like she’ll save and reuse (and reuse and reuse and reuse) a ziplock bag, a disposable coffee cup or a manilla envelope. Her commitment to reducing waste is rivaled only by her siblings (once, after his house had been tp’d by a group of teens, my uncle collected garbage bags full of undamaged toilet paper to be used by his family) and it speaks volumes, saying: the commodities of the earth are precious, landfills are over flowing, and I’m not above getting the full use of something before discarding it. May we not forget that “reduce” and “reuse” are as important as (or even more than!) recycling. In the throw-away culture in which we live, I’m grateful that this message has been imprinted on me, and I hope that one day, when my daughter sees me fold a paper towel, she’ll know that I’m going to re-use it.
The second is that my brother noticed and named what was already implicitly going through my head, and it felt profoundly satisfying to be on exactly the same wavelength as him. Even as we’re surrounded by hundreds of people during the everyday moments of life, our lives are full of private, solitary thoughts. Generally, unless we choose to share, what happens in our minds is unknown and unrecognized by the people whose company we keep. There’s a thrill and a sense of kinship when we’re joined in thought by another: the eyes meeting and almost imperceptibly rolling across the dinner table in response to the speaker’s rambling story, the compassionate “we’ve been there” smile from a stranger holding her child’s hand as your toddler melts down in the park, the chorus of groans in an exercise class when the instructor suggests your least favorite pose. It feels good to be joined, wherever we are, and to gather the sense that we’re not alone in our ways of seeing and thinking about our circumstances.
This paper towel memory has stuck with me, and it was a special moment, but I also wonder if I have turned it into an especially meaningful memory simply by reflecting extensively on it. Maybe, as Frederick Buechner notes, “all moments are key moments” and the majority of our experiences could be equally as rich with associations if we devoted time to mulling them over. I think that spending time reflecting on the words people say to us, the sights we observe, and the feelings we experience is one path to finding meaning and depth in life.
Reflect: Look back on your past day, week or month and select a moment that stands out to you. Consider it. What did this moment say to you?
Teresa Coda works as a Director of Faith Formation at a Catholic Church, dabbles in interfaith hospital chaplaincy, and writes about life and spirituality. She has a Masters in Divinity from Harvard Divinity School where she studied theology and pastoral care and counseling. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island with her husband Caleb, her daughter Esther and her Boston terrier Bean.