Thursday, December 17, 2020

Stolen Moments

is the name of one of my favorite jazz pieces. It’s perfect, joining the ranks of Bill Evans’ “Waltz for Debby” and Miles Davis’ Kinda Blue. Give a listen to the Oliver Nelson version. But this week I’m more interested in the title, “Stolen Moments.”

When I was teaching I was able to create time. I’ve written before about how elastic time can be, and I found a way to extend my 24-hour days. First, I would get up early, maybe at 5:30, to give myself some David Time before going to work. I would read and write, even though I always had a stack of papers to grade. (In a masochistic moment I once calculated how many hours I spent grading student essays over my career: over 17,000.) Then I would eat breakfast and shift into the structure of work time, dominated by the school’s bell schedule. Then, some days, on the way home from school I would stop at a coffee shop for a transitional cup while I would get started on what would be an evening of class preparation and paper grading, with some yardwork and household chores mixed in. Even then, I would create some stolen moments by molesting Kim while she was washing dishes that I was supposed to dry. Life is good.


In order to create stolen moments, you need to have a routine to steal them from. I like my routines, as Kim has pointed out to me more than once. I check the news on my computer while sipping warmed-up leftover coffee, a drink routine that puzzles Kim but which I see as a transitional ritual to begin my day. I feed the birds every morning, no matter the weather, as much from the tug of routine as from kindness to our birds. I sweep snow off the decks. I make the bed. I brush and floss. I deal with the garbage and recycled stuff. I vacuum crumbs, sand and detritus brought in from outside. Check and respond to email. Dishes. And then there’s the news at night, followed by a movie, interrupted by a cocktail that I choose to see as a welcome transitional ritual rather than a sign of alcoholism. Like my morning coffee, my cocktail is more an event than an drink.


The pandemic has made it a little more difficult to maintain some elements of my retirement routine, for I no longer go to the post office daily to get the mail and then check it on the kitchen counter, no longer go grocery shopping with Kim about every ten days, no longer dine out about once a week, no longer get my haircut where I used to or dental check-ups when I used to. Stolen moments used to be drop-ins at local art galleries or antique shops, or dinners with friends. Gone.


So, how do we still get stolen moments? Yes, I can still molest Kim while she is doing dishes, and her trimming my hair and beard count as an intimate stolen moment. And yes, that second leisurely cup of coffee on the porch while watching birds instead of going to work still counts as a stolen moment, even though we’ve been doing it for years and it’s more like a routine. In this autumn that reached into December, we stole a couple of half-days to walk the beach to look for interesting stones. Afternoon naps, with the television droning earnestly in the background, are novel enough to count as stolen moments, though they may soon slide into routines – nothing wrong with that. This morning we created stolen moments by getting up at 5 a.m. to do our grocery shopping early and alone, and the other night we stole an hour to stay up late to watch the last episode of “The Forest.” And sometimes I simply pause to look out the window.


Kim says her stolen moments usually involve sitting under a tree, noticing what’s there. She will sometimes leap up from the breakfast table to photograph a sunrise sky that may only last a minute. She says that many of her moments count as stolen moments because of the way she pays appreciative attention to what is around her. And Kim may count it as a stolen moment if she stops all her housework, baking, and artistic creation to sit and read a book.


I don’t think that it’s important what you count as a stolen moment, as long as you appreciate that you are having one. Any moment can feel stolen moment pleasure if you pay proper attention to it. As an old guy, I have an option of seeing my life as a routine as I trudge through and to mortality. But I also have the option of stealing moments, as many as I want, to savor. Speaking of which, Kim is baking cookies . . .. And I’ll put on some music while doing the dishes.



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