“Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” The moment I heard those words fall from Mr. Keating’s lips in Dead Poets Society, I felt myself come alive. Even as a headstrong teenager, I knew Keating was right, and I set out to suck the marrow out of life, to seize each day, and to make it extraordinary. From that day forward, back in 1989, I committed myself to those two familiar words, made immortal through a near-extinct language: carpe diem.
Last week, I found myself motivated by contemplation of the profound sense of loss created by the vacuum Robin Williams’ tragic end left behind, so I pulled the Dead Poets Society DVD off the shelf and popped it in, settling in for the heartwarmingly good cry I knew was inevitable.
As I watched the previously referenced scene and heard Mr. Keating’s breathy whisper to the boys, “carpe… diem…,” something clicked. Out of nowhere, into my mind sprang the quote, “Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
Suddenly, a profound sensation of enlightenment washed over me, feeling as though every last unconnected dot finally bound itself inextricably to all the others. My mind flooded with one memory parading through after another, and soon, I felt overwhelmed by a torrent of raw emotion. It was as though every tender moment I had ever shared with my children, my wife, and other loved ones replayed in vivid detail across the marquee of my mind. With each rekindled memory, I also relived every knee-buckling wave of joy, warmth, and sentiment, but one of these memories stood apart from the rest, and it was like my mind hit the pause button when it passed by.
It was an unseasonably hot June day, about six years ago. There was nothing to do, no chores to complete, nowhere to go, and no agenda to pursue: classic summertime. Instead, there was time, and plenty of it. My son, who was about to turn two years old, wanted to go outside, but I resisted, citing unbearable heat as my resistance to his request, but as a two-year-old will, he persisted, and as an adoring father will, I easily succumbed.
We must have been outside for no more than 10-15 minutes before the sweltering inferno got to us, and we needed relief. I settled down into a spot on the cool part of the concrete where a shadow shielded me from the sun, but only after supplementing our respite with a pair of Otter Pops plucked from the freezer (blue raspberry, of course). As I sat, my little boy approached me, turned, and backed up to take a seat, nestled comfortably between my knees. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the birds stopped singing. Lawnmowers seemed to magically ran out of gas. Distant traffic must have slowed to a stop. All I could hear was the slurping of our frozen treats, and somewhere in our symphony of summer bliss, the world simply faded away. I cannot, try as I might, do justice to describe what I felt next, but suffice it to say that, in a moment of crisp and pure clarity, I felt a presence unlike any other – a moment that cemented a memory so deeply in my mind that it somehow became the anchor upon which other memories pivot.
The greatest memories we experience happen only when we stop trying to seize moments, but instead, allow our moments to seize us.
In perfect moments, time ceases to exist. We become enraptured, transcending all notions of time and space as the world disappears, and we become lost in the presence of those whom we love. Our sense of self blends into a mutual bliss, and the limits of what can be expressed using language are surpassed. Words lose their meaning as raw emotion renders us powerless to speak. In these moments, we give ourselves fully to our presence, allowing ourselves to simply be, in the purest sense of the verb.
Pursuant to this goal, I propose a new motto, crafted from the same dead language in which Mr. Keating’s original advice sprung:
Captus in Momento Temporis
(Captured by a Moment in Time)
When we let go and stop trying to force our days to bend to our stubborn wills, the moments that make our days worthy of remembering will find us, and if we are willing and ready, they will seize us, enrapturing us in its loving grip.
I choose to seize moments no longer. Instead, I choose to allow the precious, still, small moments of life to seize hold of me.