Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).
I’m running more than a little behind today, having woken up feeling quite awful this morning, and then having just pulled myself together in time for a venture out into the city with my sister and a friend. It was a lovely afternoon: a trip to the Museum of the City of New York to see the show Notorious and Notable: 20th Century Women of Style, then down to Bergdorf’s to see the windows (quite spectacular: all focused on otherworldly journeys and very creative use of maps), followed by some bubbles in the Oak Room. A wonderful few hours of New York — the cold, the lights coming on, the sounds and smells of December in the city — and the first thing that’s made me feel the slightest excitement about the approach of Christmas.
But it was lovely enough that it’s made it hard for me to focus on any other moment as a moment when I’ve felt most alive. Lots of other folks are saying something of the same thing: I’ve been alive all year! And I think I have — it’s certainly been a full year, one filled with exhilaration, but there isn’t any particular moment that stands out as being more vivid than the others, anything that qualifies as most alive. Was it walking through Istanbul? Arriving in my apartment in New York? Eating in a favorite restaurant in London? All were lovely, and yet all seem wrong somehow, too much about the unusual and not at all about the year.
If there were a kind of moment that could characterize the year, it would probably be some moment during one of the many talks I’ve given, especially this fall — a moment at which I worked through a talk that I’m confident in, on material that I care about, for an audience that was attentive and invested. And if there were any one of those moments that stands out more than the others, it would probably be during the talk I gave at NYU in September. The back walls of the Humanities Initiative’s lecture hall had been opened, to allow for the overflow crowd, and so I had an unobstructed view over the audience and out the windows overlooking Cooper Square. This was the night that an enormous storm, complete with a tornado, passed over the city from the east, and so I got to watch it roll in, see the black thunderclouds and the massive bolts of lightning, as they headed our way.
Something in that moment felt exactly right: inside, safe, talking about my project while watching the approaching storm, something the folks listening didn’t yet have the right perspective to see. It was gorgeous, and scary, and I felt right then like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.