Hunting the perfect moon

Paul Bowles

“…because we don’t know [when we will die] we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.” —Paul Bowles

Readers of this blog will recognize the quote above, from Paul Bowles’ 1949 novel, “The Sheltering Sky,” as having previously appeared here at EEOTPB. It is one of my all time favorite quotes, and I keep a copy taped to the whiteboard above my desk at my office, alongside a weathered printout of Shelley’s “Ozymandias of Egypt”, and the classic villanelle by Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night”. But it is Bowles’ quote that I read most often, and I also keep an electronic copy on my phone, although I could probably delete it as I know it well by heart.

I was thinking of this quote last Friday, October 18th, as I was making my way north on I-95 from my home in northern Broward County, Florida to my office in Boca Raton. It was 6:15 AM (or thereabouts), and there was a full moon hanging low in the western sky.  But this was not just your ‘run of the mill’ full moon. This was the kind of moon that you very seldom see no matter how many times you try. This was the kind of moon that only sheepherders tending flocks at night and astronomers perched in mountaintop observatories get to enjoy seeing.  Certainly not the kind of moon one generally sees as one is maneuvering down the fabled New York to Miami, balls-to-the-wall, flip-em’-off, lay on the horn and hit ’em, main drag, known as Interstate 95, on the cusp of rush hour.

It was such a perfectly beautiful moon that I would later note it in my daily planner: “Beautiful full moon this AM over Boca – tried to get pic but too low.”

So that is what happened. I wanted to take a picture of the moon, but at 75 mph with a tractor trailer half a car length from my rear bumper, snapping a picture was out of the question. In the interest of public safety, I waited until I pulled into my office parking lot at around 6:35. I parked my car and quickly jumped out, giving a lady that I recognized, but really don’t know, a bit of a fright as she was unloading her bag out of the trunk of her car.

“I’m just taking a picture of the moon,” I said to her, as I rushed across the parking lot, my laptop computer bag in one hand and my cell phone camera at arms length in the other.

“Oh, that’s nice,” she said, as she nearly ran away from me toward the safety of the building.

I hurried on across the parking lot, trying to get a shot of this perfect moon before it dropped below the trees that border the parking lot, but no matter how hard I tried, something was in the way – a light pole, a tree – something, and then finally the perfect moon withered away, into something less than perfect. I watched until it dipped below the dark outline of the buildings in the adjacent office park, and then finally it wasted away over the Everglades, and then on out over the Gulf of Mexico, and out of my life forever. Ah well, I’ll get a shot of it next time…

So after that, I went into my office and sat down and read Paul Bowles quote again. Somehow I felt a little better for it.

Quotes we carry

Social media is awash these days in quotes, and I have to admit that I am a sucker for a good quote, be it from a deceased politician, company CEO, famous author, or Hollywood celeb. We used to have to wait for pearls of wisdom to filter down to us through the print media, but now we have quotes that we are free to use, download, send to Facebook friends, Tweet, or incorporate into blogs, as I have here at EEOTPB upon so many occasions.

Quotes lift us up, they make us laugh, and they make us sound worldly when we’re really not. An appropriate quote, delivered with proper timing can make or break you in corporate America.

One afternoon, half dozing through a staff meeting, I was roused from near slumber by a stammering colleague who seemed reluctant to commit to a plan for a product delivery. Waiting for the proper entrance into the fray, I responded with one of my favorite quotes by General George Patton:

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

Of course I attributed the quote to the General before delivery. The response was at first a subtle chuckling that rippled through the room, but my manager smiled and told me he liked my attitude. By the way — my colleague was soon asked to leave the company, and although I can’t say I was fast-tracked to a corner office, I wasn’t dismissed either. If there is ever a quote that shows balls-to-the wall commitment to getting the job done it is that one (depending upon the situation, skip the word ‘violently’, you never know how that is going to be taken). So remember it, oh Corporate Drones.

But there are quotes that hit us where we live, aren’t there? Have you ever printed out a quote, trimmed it neatly, and folded it into your wallet, or pocketbook? Has a particular quote elevated itself to “wallet status” – something you want to keep near you, to refer to when you are not quite sure of the shaky ground upon which you walk, or the future into which you enter, ready or not?

Maybe your personal quote is hand written on a  post-it note, folded five times and tucked behind your drivers license just in case you need it someday, or maybe it is in your pocketbook, written in the margin of your DayTimer, or some such, but you know where it is so you can find it always – that’s the kind of quote I am talking about – one that makes you think about life in a way you always knew that it should be thought of, but that he or she said it so well, and so much better than you could have.

The quote that I carry with me is a quote from the classic 1949 novel by Paul Bowles, “The  Sheltering Sky”. Bowles, if you recall, was the only child of a New York City dentist, a father who, according to reports, was a harsh father who left Paul as an infant to die on a window ledge during a winter storm. Perhaps such harsh treatment as an infant infused young Paul with a unique outlook on life. The stark finality, and reality of this quote, has garnered it a place in my ‘electronic’ wallet and I refer to it daily, although I can recite it by heart:

Because we do not know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really.”

In this passage Paul Bowles goes on to suggest that in a lifetime we only watch the full moon rise perhaps 20 times…

If you have a quote that you carry with you and it means something special to you, please feel free to share it here.

Mahalo,

–Ed