Have you ever had your life change due to some relatively insignificant experience…a trivial moment? I am not referring to dramatic events like the birth of a child, the death of a parent or friend; I am not even thinking of the “what if” moments of getting into this car rather than that, that plane rather than the other one. These are big moments and are readily identified. But there are other moments, ones of no great importance, perhaps an overheard conversation between two children, a random act of kindness, or perhaps it was a simple line from a book…not the Bible or Tao Te Ching, but a passing line in an otherwise forgettable story that makes you lower the book to your lap…a single word even, that changed everything. I suspect, but do not know for certain, that this is more common than one might think.
There is, of course, the moment one might call the “dawning realization”…stepping into the garden one morning, breathing in the crisp air, the stillness, when suddenly it truly hits you that your days are numbered or that she has been cheating or lying or that you are in love. For better or for worse, we have all been there. But there are other moments, unexpected “ah, ha” moments when nothing changed but everything changed. Some refer to these moments on the large scale as “Copernican Shifts”, after the realization that we are not the center of the universe. Malcolm Gladwell, refers to “Tipping Points”, small things that cause or diminish crime waves or fashions or attitudes toward gay marriage.
Yet, I believe that there are tipping points in our own lives… not world changing events, just moments that when viewed in retrospect changed everything. One can easily count off the big things: a father’s passing, getting drafted, or the births of children come readily to mind. I can list certain books which had significance for me: a copy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, (found in an alley), Slaughterhouse 5, Ellison’s Invisible Man, On the Road. But the trivial moments are often harder to see…or not. Perhaps each of us remembers clearly a word that was spoken or read, a bird that passed, an open mailbox, a single footprint by the river, a distant bell that knelled an awakening from which there was no turning back.