There are moments in everyone’s life that define who we are, that mark changes in how we see ourselves and the world….moments we never forget. Some moments are personal: the first time we feel a baby move in our belly, the pain felt after losing a loved one, the crushing numbness as we watched the Twin Towers crumble. Other moments come to us in small bits, appreciated only after they are gone: jumping into a pool of cool water after mowing the lawn on a hot July day, dipping into the first strawberry shortcake of the season, crunching leaves under foot as we hike through the woods in October.
Travel moments are some of my favorites. Unforgettable? Seeing the Eiffel Tower surge into view after climbing the stairs at the Trocadero metro stop. Glancing out the window of the plane as we start our descent into Cairo, only to see the pyramids illuminated and majestic. Weeping uncontrollably at my first sight of the Sistine Chapel, as my teenage daughters rolled their eyes wondering why their mother was so weird. In my defense, I must say that seeing the Sistine Chapel was more challenging than one may think. My first time in the Vatican, my husband wore shorts, and he was not allowed access to the Chapel. My second time in the Vatican, Pope Paul VI had the nerve to die, and those Cardinals took up residence there to vote in Pope John Paul I. So when I finally made it through the gauntlet of the thousands of tourists wending their way through the Vatican Museums and entered the chapel itself, twenty years after my first attempt, I was unable to contain myself. I apologize for being a hopeless nerd.
Today, I had a moment. I saw Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. They don’t make it easy to see. Reservations must be made weeks in advance. Automatic redial on your phone is a necessity, because the line is almost always busy. There is a very small window of opportunity to pick up the tickets. Twenty minutes before the appointed time of your visit, you had best be at the box office to get those babies because if you miss your deadline they are gone for good. Then there is the series of chambers you go through to “dehumidify” yourselves. This mural is so delicate, so very fragile, that it must be protected from the very breath we exhale.
Everyone knows this iconic work of art. It has survived the ravages of time, bombing raids by the American military during World War II, and the Italian government. It has been recreated in every medium, from laundry lint to being painted on a grain of rice. It has inspired conspiracy theories, novels, and plays. It moves the faithful and the atheist alike. It defines western culture as no other work of art can.
And so, today I stood before this miracle of one man’s inspiration and again I wept, overcome at my insignificance and awed at the power of the human mind. I had a moment.