You know it when you feel it.
That moment when a work of art has been crafted so perfectly that it touches the part of you that doesn’t traffic in words but emotions. When you have to choose between three possible responses: 1. Laughter. 2. Tears. 3. Both.
I think of taking a walk when Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” shuffled to the fore on my iPod, how my spirit spiraled upward with each repetition of the theme. Or the first time I read The Polar Express, dazzled by the poetry of the story and the beauty of the paintings. Going deeper in my past I still remember my amazement when I finished Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, awestruck by the way he knitted the book together into a cohesive whole, every plot point leading to a conclusion marked by horror and redemption.
The magic moment.
I’ll never be a Pachelbel, a Chris Van Allsburg or a Charles Dickens. I studied piano with Miss Virginia for three years during elementary school and my current repertoire consists of “Jingle Bells” and other melodies of similar complexity. Sometimes, on my very best days, I think I might have been worthy of buying ink for Mr. Dickens, but that’s as far as it goes.
My limitations used to bother me.
It’s taken me several decades to learn that all I can be is the best version of myself. I don’t pretend I have just imparted a life-changing, never-before-heard truth to all of you. But it was one thing for me to know this truth and another to believe it.
I was never delusional, thinking I was only one paragraph away from literary immortality. But part of me did wonder if there were any point to pursuing something if I couldn’t be the best or even in the same ZIP code as the best.
In the last five years or so I have finally gained some hard-won perspective. For me, striving to be the best wasn’t about the pursuit of excellence but perfection. Now I can see that my words may not be intended for millions or thousands or hundreds, but for one. One person who needs to hear what I have to say at that given moment—it might even be a magic moment.
Although I am drawn to beauty in the arts, I believe we’re all capable of being magicians. The turn of a wrench, the placement of a decimal or the touch of a child’s hand can lead to a moment of completion and wholeness. Of knowing, if just for a millisecond, that you are doing exactly the right thing in exactly the right way at exactly the right time.