I remember—exactly—how my red, wrinkly, newborn babies’ feet felt to my fingers the first time I touched them. I can feel, even now, twenty-eight years later, the heat from my husband’s breath when he bent his head to kiss me for the first time.
Of course, these moments are the very definition of cliché. Milestones like these are common to us all. They are the high-water tides that break over our heads, ripple out in every direction, and determine the course of the rest of our lives.
Often, it’s the firsts in our lives that define us—a new job, a fortunate meeting, or a path taken or not taken in a meandering journey. We have no idea what the repercussions will be when we live, as we so rarely do except in these clichéd firsts, entirely present in the moment.
When these freeze-frame moments of incalculable import come out of nowhere when we least expect them, and when there is little or no time to consider, weigh, or debate, that’s when we often choose to leap off the high dive to see what will happen next.
I’m fascinated by these grand moments. They are small slices of our lives in terms of time, but they have the power to change us irrevocably for better or worse and for all time. The split second when a choice must be made that will define our own personal ethics forevermore—to do the right thing when no one is looking, for example—will ultimately declare who we are, what we believe deep-down, and what we can or can’t live with for the rest of our days.
What makes a person decide in a fraction of a second to risk his or her life to rescue a stranger? What drives another to a moment of infidelity? How does a lone protester suddenly find the courage to stand up to oppressors?
What we leave behind when we die are the chain reactions begun by each of us in our “first” moments, our split-second decisions, and the choices we make when we are courageous enough to take a chance.