Week 24: A Moment to Forget

In 2000, I proposed to Sarah at a B & B in Lakeside, Michigan. Got down on one knee, took her hand, the whole thing. She proposed back, rings were exchanged, and then we were just kind of like: What do we do now?…

Jeff Ruby's son
I have no idea what was going on here. But someday when I’m old this will represent the “good old days.”

In 2000, I proposed to Sarah at a B & B in Lakeside, Michigan. Got down on one knee, took her hand, the whole thing. She proposed back, rings were exchanged, and then we were just kind of like: What do we do now? We drove aimlessly along Red Arrow Highway, stopping at antique shops and talking about a future we were certain we could predict, but time did not slow down, nor did it speed up. It sort of sat there, waiting for someone to make it memorable. Eventually, we wandered back to Chicago and knocked on Sarah’s parents’ door. “Mom, Dad, we got engaged!” she blurted out before they’d even let us in the front door.

“That’s terrific,” her mother said. “We bought a new refrigerator.”

The next few days were even more anticlimactic. For 48 hours, I couldn’t locate my mom, because she was away on business and had no idea how to answer her cell phone. By the time I got her, even I had lost interest in my news.

I remember feeling disappointed, not with the engagement, but with The Moment. Years later, I still think about it. Big things happen, and you can’t make them magic any more than you can make it start raining. And sometimes the knowledge of what’s happening—This is a big moment! I’m going to remember it forever!—is enough to taint it, like when someone tries to shoot a video, and the presence of the camera changes everything because it makes you self-conscious and weird.

Life-changing events occur, like engagements and car accidents and this, and I sleepwalk through them. Instead of losing myself in the moment, like the Sage of Detroit advised, I view the moment from a safe distance like a passive observer watching a movie. This movie just happens to be my life. Which doesn’t have the dramatic arc of 8 Mile.

Pregnancy is another thing entirely. It’s a Big Moment that goes on and on, and no one can possibly sustain excitement for that long. God knows I try. “This is the last time my wife will be pregnant,” I think. “I should be remembering every detail!” But the thrill of feeling that first kick in Sarah’s belly, or watching my five-year-old boy gently whispering words of encouragement to whatever’s in that belly, quickly get lost in the shuffle, because when those moments pass, and the World’s Dumbest Dog has just peed on the rug again and I still have seven boxes of IKEA-related projects waiting for me, it’s irrelevant how I feel about such details. The world keeps spinning.

Oscar Levant once said, “Happiness isn’t something you experience; it’s something you remember.” So while I should be finding some meaning in all this, I’ll probably only find it meaningful the way human beings are built to find anything in life meaningful: in retrospect.

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