My life is full of small shining moments, glimmering threads sewn into the fabric of each day. They happen all the time: catching sight of a full moon overhead; lingering over tea with friends; sinking into a good book. Alone, they might not seem significant, but together, they provide solid proof of life’s goodness, of the everyday magic that surrounds me.
But there are moments, and there are Moments. Moments when planning + intention + luck slide magically into place and everything is right with the world, if only for a few shimmering seconds. Such are the moments that make up the Highlight Reel.
The Highlight Reel is what I draw from when grim reality begins to cloud my vision, when all I can see is lack and loss. It spins like a slow-moving carousel, filled with slow-mo shots of golden light, triumphant eyes, exultant smiles. It's my happy place.
In July, I had not one but two moments for the Reel.
They both happened on the occasion of my mother’s 60th birthday. Prior to the big day, my sisters and I talked for months about how to commemorate this special occasion. What would bring our mother the most happiness? We gently probed her for suggestions, and came away with a few guidelines: no big party. No la-dee-da.
Finally, we decided upon this: all of us girls, her daughters (there are six of us) would whisk her away to her favorite place, Canon Beach, where we would spend the day. We would also invite her sister, our aunt, to join us. I would fly up from San Francisco; youngest sister would fly up from Austin, baby in tow, and we’d spend the day showering our mother with love. And we wouldn't tell her beforehand; we'd make it a secret.
It wasn’t a showy plan, and there was much debate among us as to whether it was enough, but we stuck to it. Our aunt arranged to spend the day with our mother, thereby guaranteeing that her day would be free. I flew in the night before, as did little sister, whose plane was delayed twice, and who finally straggled into PDX after midnight carrying one exhausted infant.
On the morning of our mother's birthday, we sisters met about a mile from the farm so that we could drive down the hill, caravan-style, for the surprise. Each of us had called her earlier that morning, telling her in our own ways that we wished we could spend the day with her, but that one thing or another had prevented it. “How’s the weather in San Francisco?” she asked me. “Cool and foggy as always,” I replied, looking out on a sunny Portland sky.
Moments later, we barreled down the gravel-strewn driveway, dust flying (a neighbor later told my mother: I saw all those black cars tear down your driveway, and I thought maybe you were in trouble with the law), and screeched to a halt.
Our mother came walking out of the house, bewildered; it took her a second to take it in. As we ran towards her, she began to cry. "Did you really think that we were too busy to be with you on your birthday?" We asked her. "I never imagined..." she replied.
After the requisite kissing and hugging and Happy Birthday’s were said, she turned to me, tears still sliding down her cheeks, and said: “I don’t want this day to end!”
And just like that: Highlight Reel. Click. I can still see her face as she said those words.
We went to breakfast and passed the baby around and then we drove to Canon Beach, all 8 of us plus baby, and spent the day breathing in the ocean air + walking on the beach + sharing stories. We laughed and caught up. We ate white licorice ice cream. We held our mother’s hand and watched her giggle with her sister.
We had arranged for a photographer to meet us on the beach to capture a few shots to commemorate the day - it was the first time we had engaged a professional to document all of us together, and at first we felt self-conscious, but we gradually relaxed into it and started having fun.
Beneath the gaze of the camera, we looked at each other with a new awareness of what we have, and how rare + special it was to be together. And there, in the late afternoon, on the beach, we held our mother on our shoulders and she raised her arms high in the air, an image that slid effortlessly into the Highlight Reel, where it will remain as long as I have memory.
All too often, life hands us dark moments + difficult choices, but nestled in between are the light, the magic, and the love.
I hope that you too have a Highlight Reel that you go to from time to time to restore your spirit.
Photos by Don Frank.