Where I Ought To Be
I have a memory that keeps repeating in my brain.
It was the summer of 1979.
I was 28, and I had been working for the past three years at a research organization at the lowest possible rung that existed in that organization or perhaps any organization. I had a college degree in English, but in this job I only needed the alphabet in order to do everyone else’s filing. But then again, the boss knew I was pretty smart and offered to pay for graduate school for an M.B.A. So I was doing a fairly easy job and going to school on their money. Life was okay.
There was a seminar being offered at the University of Connecticut (where I was not only working on my MBA but where I got my BA degree.) It was a two day course – in what, I have no idea. I cannot remember one single thing about the seminar. Not the subject matter, the teacher, the building where the class was – nothing. It is a complete blank.
But what is not a blank is the only evening I spent at Storrs after the first day of classes.
The University put up the conference attendees in the single-bed dorm building – the only one on campus at the time. I remembered it from my undergrad days as the dorm where the really antisocial kids lived, the ones who had been through several roommates until the administration had to admit that no one would live with these guys. (I had a roommate my first semester who ended up there, and I will attest to her un-live-with-able-ness.) But anyway, the dorm was empty in the summer, and the perfect spot for offering an inexpensive room for short stays by adults. Of which I now was one, being a whole five years past my undergraduate studies.
The room had a low cot-sized bed with stiff white sheets that smelled of bleach, a shallow closet with no door and no hangers, and a square foot of mirror hung so high short people would have to jump a little for a glimpse of their eyebrows. But it was clean and completely, serenely quiet. It was wonderful.
After the class I have no recollection of, I went out to dinner. I went to the little pizza/hamburger joint a short walk from campus, where as a student, I used to eat about twice a month. (The dorm I had lived in had a wonderful cook, and so I only ate out on the weekends I did not go home… I never missed a dorm meal. Besides I had no money.) With my lack of funds back then, I could not even afford a pizza. But I could get a hamburger for $1.25. If I felt really rich, I would have a side salad for $0.50 more. That’s what I ordered that night five years later. The grease ran down the back of my hand when I picked up the burger. It tasted just as good as it did back then.
There were people in the restaurant who looked vaguely familiar, and I guessed that they were in my mysterious seminar. But I didn’t join them. I sat by myself in a booth, and was quite content, although sitting alone in a restaurant was usually agony for me then. I smiled a few times at my maybe classmates.
There was a small theater right near this restaurant. It was my second home back when I lived on campus. They had a student rate of 75 cents. And lots of kids went to the movies alone. I was so afraid of doing things alone back then – of looking friendless, I guess. I often knocked on doors in the dorm to see if anyone would go with me. But I sometimes went alone. I was embarrassed if I had to stand in line, but once I got in the dark theater, I became invisible. Just the movie existed and I let myself be enveloped. I remember taking a break during finals my last year by going to the matinee every afternoon. I saw “Jesus Christ Superstar” five days in a row.
And five years later, I decided to go sit in that theater again. The movie was Woody Allen’s “Manhattan.” I know that many are re-examining that movie in light of Allen’s personal history. But at that time, it didn’t seem creepy or pedophiliac. It was glorious. It was innocent. Shot in black and white, with long sweeping romantic views – it seemed more of a love affair with New York than with a young girl.
And the music! Gershwin as he was meant to be heard. Gershwin as he was meant to represent all the joy and melancholy of Life.
I left the theater that night with “Rhapsody in Blue” singing through my fingers and toes.
The evening was one of those perfect summer nights. Warm and cool at the same time. A light breeze and dark stillness at the same time. Companionship and solitude at the same time – as my fellow moviegoers strolled in the same direction or drifted away.
I was overwhelmed by the feeling that, at that moment, I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
And now, forty years later, I remember that feeling as strongly as I did then. That feeling of being completely and precisely where I ought to be.
In the moment, they call it now.
And forty years later, I cannot recall very many of those moments.
But that one is vivid. And it is enough to cheer me every time it comes to mind.
But how can that be? How does such a simple evening stick in my memory as faultless and complete? How can there not be more moments of such joyful awareness?
Are there no other such moments? Have I not felt – in forty years – another occasion where I was uniquely present? Have I let them drift away unnoticed?
I hope to not let so many moments disappear in the future.
I need once more to be in exactly the right place.