Aha’s and Oh-oh’s

In Columns, Features, Pieces to Peter's Puzzling World by Peter Webster

There are moments and there are Moments: someone called them “Aha Moments.” These, for me, are usually sudden and not necessarily rational.

They happen like somebody—Somebody or Something—smacking me upside the head. If they’re important enough, they’re physical experiences as well as emotional.

As usual, the problem in writing about these experiences is how to start. An old friend told me that there was nothing like looking at a blank piece of paper in his typewriter to remind him of how little he
had to say.

Computers and word processing programs haven’t helped any with that situation. However, these moments, on one level, are insights, but often they’re more than that.

Awakenings, understandings, epiphanies, transcendental experiences. They can tie together a bunch of previously unrelated material so that Things Make Sense.

Sir Issac Newton had a famous epiphany when he watched an apple fall and thought, “Why is that?” Nobody can count the number of people who had seen apples—or peaches, pears or anything else—fall off trees; but Newton was awake and aware.

I believe these moments happen all the time: the thing is to be open to seeing them.

Too often, I’m so busy with my mind racing along I can’t notice what’s actually going on. We live in busy times and there’s usually too many inputs and too many outputs.

A friend and I were just talking about this; she said, “It’s like praying, Peter. People get so busy praying they don’t listen for the answer.

“Remember the story about the guy in Alaska and the Eskimo?” Sure.

Guy is sitting in a bar in Alaska ranting about how useless prayer is. He tells the story about being stuck out in

the bush in winter, freezing to death. He prays and asks God to get him to safety.

“Hell,” he said, “All that happened was some Eskimo came along on a snow-mobile and gave me a ride into Nome.” Maybe he wanted a ride in a golden chariot.

Apples falling off of branches, Inuits on snow-mobiles—all sorts of things come our way. We just have to notice.

Sometimes these moments come when I’m not looking. A sudden break from the normal, like a deja vu experience, as if everything goes from monaural to stereo, from dimness to bright colors, one screen disintegrates and there’s another one behind the first.

Last week I read “The People’s History of the American Revolution,” (Ray Raphael, New Press, 1991). I have no idea how many times I’ve read about—or seen TV and movies about—the American Revolution.

The book has a chapter about African-Americans during the war. Tens of thousands of slaves, including those belonging to both Jefferson and Washington, ran away to join the British because the British promised freedom if they served the Royalists.

Slaves ran away from two of the most revered Americans of all time— because the liberty in the Declaration of Independence didn’t apply to non- whites. Yes, the English lied to them, but the slaves didn’t know that —they just wanted to be free.

When the Revolution ended, recaptured slaves were sent to labor camps to live out their lives in lead mines or auctioned off in the West Indies. That puts a different light on the establishment of our country, and when I read that chapter, I had one of those moments of clarity. Things were bad enough for the slaves that even those of the “father of our country” ran away…

One time when I was salmon fishing I saw myself standing at the end of a long long string of people fishing at that spot—first Paleo-Indians, then the Takilma people, followed by early white settlers, and finally me, doing what people had done for ten thousand years at that same spot. People would come after me in an unseen future. I was part of history and I belonged to it.

Another time I thought, if I fall into the river and drown what would happen? I’d probably snag up somewhere; wild animals would eat me; salmon and trout would use me for food; what was left would become nutrients of the riverine plants.

I would be part of the food-chain and that would be my place in the way of life along the river. It was proper: that’s what we’re supposed to do, all living things make way and nurture other living things. I wasn’t separate: I belonged.

These moments aren’t always lovely insights, obviously.

Some of them are unpleasant, like realizing our glorious country wasn’t all that glorious to many of it’s residents. They’re “Oh-oh moments.” A friend calls these revelations nervous break-throughs. Personal tsunamis.

My sister calls them internal depth charges. But through these experiences we grow as people, as human beings. They’re learning experiences.

But, if I’m not paying attention, I don’t know I’m having them; the more emotionally numb I am, the less I feel them.

That’s always been a problem for me. I’m pain-avoidant: I know how to deal with physical pain, it’s the emotional pain that’s difficult. I don’t like feeling like I’m going to have my insides bust out like in “Alien.”

But, when something very important is going on inside me, that’s what it’s like. When I’d hit my personal bottom and lost my job, my home, everything I’d been trying to hang onto for years, it felt like that.

Groans and tears and spasms… Or when my son died: I just doubled up with the pain; there wasn’t any way to stand up straight. Those are the moments that really change life: nothing is ever the same inside afterward, even though everything outside is still the same.

The sky is still the sky, the earth is still the earth, there’s still shopping to be done, dishes and laundry to wash—I still have to schlep through the daily stuff of my life.