Sometimes moments don’t show their true importance until time passes and they become memories. Until we can stand, feet firmly planted in the future, and look back from an over-the-shoulder vantage point, how can we truly understand the meaning of a moment in passing? For whatever reason, likely attributed to our unfathomable human minds, it is confirmed over and over again. Dr. Seuss’ saying is true. “Sometimes you will never know the value of something until it becomes a memory.”
I was in Daytona Beach when I experienced this for myself. A moment from earlier in the day had become a memory, and the memory was beginning to dawn on me as dawn quickly approached, suddenly revealing its true meaning. I knew the lesson was beginning to sink in deep, likely to somewhere it can never be retracted, because instead of smiling faintly at the memory and letting it pass me by, I began to cry. And once the tears came, I walked the Daytona Beach boardwalk in a trance, headphones in, distracted by the conundrums of life.
My strange mix of emotions in deciphering the meaning of this memory only further confirmed the meaning in itself. I felt the strangest mix of emotions I’d likely ever experienced before, a feeling of both pride and shame of equal proportions.
The moment really wasn’t anything that special. It wasn’t out of this world. It was a simple moment in passing that could have been easily forgotten. I could have moved passed this without a second thought, and yet there I was, wandering aimlessly up and down the boardwalk in Daytona Beach, tears ablaze. Humbled and confused, enlightened and bemused.
Earlier that day, I was driving from Melbourne to Daytona Beach, hurrying slightly in order to make it for yet another sunset photo session on the beach at Ponce Inlet. As I was nearing my destination, I passed a 7 Eleven. I was thirsty and I hadn’t eaten much that day. I swerved on a spur of the moment decision into the store’s parking lot, deciding to grab a bottle of water and something small to eat to get me through the next couple hours. I grabbed my water, made the poor decision to opt for a chocolate bar, and approached the cash register.
There was one man ahead of me in line, and I tapped my foot impatiently as I checked my watch. I’m so late, I thought to myself.
“It says declined,” the young, red-headed cash register girl said.
The man stumbled, if hands could stumble, over his wallet, searching for the next card. He sat in a wheelchair, and his grey, almost non-existent hair suggested he was well into his seventies. I glanced over at the till, acknowledging the bottle of wine already wrapped in the plastic bag, waiting to be taken home with this man.
Several moments passed. I looked at my watch yet again, feeling my annoyance growing as my watch indicated my growing tardiness, which meant likely missing out on the most photo ideal sunset-lighting. I sighed, peering behind me to see the line growing longer, people staggering to widen their view of the misfortune up front.
The elderly man finally managed to extract the second JC Penny credit card, handing it feebly towards the till. Swipe.
“It’s declined,” she said.
The man remained quiet for a moment, and before he could speak, I found my own voice breaking the silence.
“How much is it?” I asked, feeling equally as shocked as the cash register girl herself.
“Uh… It’s five-thirty-two.”
Five dollars and thirty two cents, I thought to myself, overcome by the sting of sympathy.
“You can just add it to my things,” I said.
“Uh… are you sure?” she said, her expression shocked and bewildered. I nodded patiently.
“You’re awesome,” she said, still seemingly in a state of delirium.
I paid for the things, both mine and his, and gave the elderly man – still silent – a smile.
“Here you go,” I said to him as I placed the wine in his lap.
“Th-thank you,” he stuttered. I left without another word, but a world full of happiness.
Later that evening, as I was walking the boardwalk in Daytona Beach, the true significance of this encounter finally hit me.
Sometimes people use the saying “I know exactly when everything changed for me,” to refer to moments that apparently changed their life. And as I processed the details of this moment, I could finally begin to understand this saying. I’m not sure whether this moment has changed my life, per se, but I’m certain that it has changed my perspective, and stands as a permanent marker on my ultimate progression and change as a person. This moment is my crossroads, and this moment is one I will never forget.
In this moment, and reflecting upon it, it is as if I am an outsider. I’m a third party, witnessing the event, distinctly visualizing two separate people: the person I used to be, and the person I am becoming. Still in a state of transitioning, I don’t truly belong to either of these bodies yet, so I feel the emotions of each equally.
I feel a strange mix of shame for having been a selfish person, and pride for having helped someone in need. I feel poorly for having been impatient and annoyed, for being so wrapped up in myself and my own needs that I forget about the needs of others. For feeling so untouchable and free of responsibilities that I refused to acknowledge that I have the power to help someone else. I feel shame, shame in standing there impatiently secretly cursing this elderly man in a wheel chair who can’t afford a five dollar bottle of wine, angry because he’s making me, my 23 year old self, late for a photo shoot on the beach during my Florida vacation. I feel shame in all of this, and most of all I feel shame in knowing this is who I used to be.
But I also feel pride. I feel pride for having the courage to make a wrong situation right, by pure motivation of goodness. I feel strong and at peace, knowing that I made a step that not any of the other people in line had the courage to do. I feel good that perhaps I made the old man’s day a little brighter, and I feel happy at my own happiness in creating happiness. I feel enthused that I’m proving my new self to my old self, that I’m taking distinct steps in breaking my old habits and eventually losing my old self completely. And I also feel blessed that I’m able to reflect on this moment with pure honesty, and truly accept it for what it is.
A life-altering moment.