I went to Egypt a few years ago, and I keep having these flashbacks lately. Of riding the elevator up that huge, lotus-shaped monument the Russians built, of eating falafel burgers at McDonalds, of counting the Goddess Hathor statuettes at the National Museum. Of the day the deaf man I’d never met proposed marriage to me from across the street in unmistakable sign language.
Of course I saw the Pyramids, the Sphinx, the Nile, and the new library they were building in Alexandria. But the moments that bubble back to the surface and form my sense of the place are smaller things.
Our lives follow a similar pattern. Of course we remember the big events, and they can define our lives as vividly as the Pyramids define Egypt. But the things that really make us who we are come from the innumerable small moments of great importance. Some of the experiences that shaped me most profoundly wouldn’t show up in a history book if one were written about me. Walking down a wild, rocky, deserted beach when I was fifteen, kissing in the garden swing one day, the time my daughter first smiled up at me; these are the moments that shine out to me as things that mattered.
Our lives are a mosaic of little moments: sunsets, snatches of songs, sudden bursts of illumination, strangers’ smiles. Blink too slowly, hurry too frantically, plan too exhaustively, and they will pass us by, unnoticed. Take them away, and we’re left with what we could have read about life and known if we’d never lived it.