Life Flashes Before Your Eyes Like a Bubble

If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it


With the promise of wind in his hair, my friend Neil Rambana climbed into his newly restored 1970 Datsun Roadster and was off to meet the tree frog that would jump in his lap — and the telephone pole that would be the new home for his dream car.
Neil spent more than a year restoring his Datsun, piece by piece, bolt by bolt, all from the ground up. I need two friends to help me bake a quiche, so I marveled at the feat.

He would send updates along the way. A snapshot of the dash with an exposed web of wires, and weeks later, an engine tucked in place. Sometimes it would be something small, like a wooden gearshift knob. Finally, after two years, came a picture of Neil standing next to his silver and red-topped masterpiece. Neil was Sir Edmund Hillary on top of Everest. He had planted his man flag in his new front seat. I’m pretty sure his grand plan wasn’t to wrap his hard work around a telephone pole, but it gave Neil a chance to experience something special.

A few years earlier, a DVD produced by the magician Criss Angel had caught my eye at a store. The DVD would reveal Angel’s secret to levitation. Really? Was I only $19.95 away from floating above mere mortals? The possibilities were staggering — disrupting meetings, visiting churches and rising up during sermons … an endless idea stream of how to abuse a new gift.

Of course, I knew it was a trick. If he could really levitate, I’m pretty sure he would have made the evening news by now. But I’m the guy who orders a food dehydrator at 3 a.m.; whipping out my credit card for a mystical power that would alter the course of life as I know it seemed reasonable. So, $19.95 later, I had the DVD in hand. I went home, closed my office door, glanced up at the ceiling to make sure my path was clear and fired it up. It took about a minute before Angel acknowledged he didn’t ACTUALLY leave the ground.

But here’s the thing. For just a split second when the DVD was loading, I thought, “What if I paid $19.95 for a split second of ‘what if,’ and it was worth every penny?” I’ve forgotten a million other moments, but I remember that one.

Fan Yang is a bubble artist off-Broadway — way off Broadway. He creates giant bubbles with people and other crazy things inside. And in an instant, they’re gone. All his hard work — thousands of practice bubbles — bursting in failure. All his years of perfecting his art, only to amaze you with something that’s gone in the blink of an eye.

Fan Yang understands that a moment matters.

Life has taught me to see the moments — even if fleeting — and to appreciate anticipation as its own gift. Amazing things — sometimes occurring in a flash — are so easy to miss: the first smile from a grandchild, the last “I do” at your kid’s wedding or seeing a couple kissing inside a big bubble off-Broadway. The moments can be wonderfully happy or stunningly sad, but they define the difference between a well-lived life on a roller coaster and the predictable monotony of a merry-go-round. I’ll take the roller coaster all day long.

I’ve thought a great deal about this roller coaster versus merry-go-round idea. I believe most people, when asked, would quickly choose the roller coaster because it seems more interesting. Sadly, it seems most folks, despite their interest in experiencing the ups and downs, sink into the safety and monotony of everyday life.

Reality will do that to you sometimes, the rhythm of life swallowing us in a daily pattern, morphing the special moments into life noise. I’m not a psychologist, but I play one in my own head, so I try to embrace those up-and-down moments.

As Neil learned, sometimes the moment is when a tree frog decides to come along for the ride. Neil proved he could take a punch even if it was from a tiny green fist, but building his dream car was now a footnote on a phone pole — years to build, a moment to enjoy and an instant to lose.

Undaunted, Neil is starting over and restoring a Rolls Royce, because that’s what roller-coaster people do. I can’t wait for the first pictures. I’m guessing he’ll start sending them at any moment.

Categories: Opinion