A few years ago, I came across this line in a book that many of you have probably read: “I fell in love like you fall asleep,” my memory of the quote says (I’m paraphrasing, I think). “Slowly at first, and then all of a sudden.” At that point, I had never fallen in love, but I had fallen asleep—many times, even—and the idea of that process, of things happening slowly and then quickly and then slowly again, made sense to me. I memorized that line without even trying, for it had put something words around something elusive in a way that made sense, and I—well, I notice when that happens.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how life happens this way. This idea is a little bit different than what the writer meant, unless you think about how all through the night, you wake and fall asleep again, and those moments are punctuated by the moments when you know you’re awake.
I write it in a letter: “Don’t be surprised,” I say, “that life happens slowly and all of a sudden at the same time.” In the night-night dark, I say it out loud, for the life I’m living is lived in night-night moments and in the sunshine; it is pebbles of things we say and boulders that I climb onto. In any case, it is in the big and in the small, in the thimblefuls and in the days that feel like rushing rivers they’re so darn much.
But I am surprised by this. I am confused by the way the days go by outside my window while I sit at my desk; I spend my minutes changing words and I search the Internet for sandals and I go to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. I come back and only three minutes have passed and I look out the window and wonder how many cups of tea until 5 o’clock; or I come back and spill some tea on my stacks of papers and get red marks on my fingers and day by day, we work toward making something. And then all of a sudden, our book arrives, and every month, it feels the same: Happy. I stack the magazines by my desk, and at home, I leave one on the couch, which I later toss off because I want to lay down, as if I’ve forgotten that my hours, my slow, slow hours and my gone-by hours, my hours helped stitch it together, but all of a sudden, it’s on my floor. And I’m thinking about the next one.
I frequently remark about time; it’s not that I lose track of it—I am eerily in tune to the passing of time—but that I can do nothing to stop it. If some days ooze by like thick molasses, as the saying goes, then some nights (some nights!) whiz by like dangerous motorcycle men on the Interstate, and I trail after them, yelling, “Slow down! You’ll hurt yourself!” But they don’t, probably because the whizzing is so loud—at least it is to me. “CAN YOU BELIEVE IT’S ALMOST MAY?” I yell over the wind. “Yes. No. What? Why are you yelling?”
“I don’t know,” though I do. I’m trying to slow it down, or speed it up, or find some way, somehow, to be in control of it.
So the days go by. And still, we gather pebbles. All of us, we bring them to each other, in our pockets and in our shoes and in Ziploc baggies in our purses. Tiny, tiny pebbles that wouldn’t even cause the princess to suspect a pea—that’s what they are sometimes: “Hey, just wanted to say that I miss you.” and “Can you chat at 5? For 10 minutes? OK.” and “This reminded me of you…” But sometimes they’re bigger: “I wrote you a letter.” or “Can I come see you?” or nothing, just us in each other’s arms, all of a sudden-like. I collect all of these and line them up around my house and somewhere in the middle of doing that, I remark on how long it’s been. Six months, a year, nearly. It’s a baby who’s almost a toddler, newlyweds who aren’t anymore, the comfort of being together that didn’t used to be. It’s yelling at me, all of the remarkable and ordinary, piled up like pebbled along a river: “NOTICE ME.” So I do.
Nothing about my life is more unusual than most people’s lives, I think. I snooze my alarm in the morning. I drink half a cup of coffee and pour another to take with me to the office. I work, which sometimes feels like work but often doesn’t (and still, sometimes it’s a long time until 5 p.m.) Then, I fight traffic home or I go on a run and take pictures of flowers. I send a text to my mom and I spend entirely too much time looking up sandals online and life happens slowly, in tiny measures, all day long.
But sometimes—sometimes—it happens all of a sudden. Sometimes the pebbles turn into the boulders that I can’t carry home, and instead, I write my name on the side of them. Sometimes the moments are so big that no one can argue that they see them, but what do you do with that? You breathe it in, quietly. You look at each other with half-smiles, sure, steady, feeling the bigness. Spinning, falling, aware of the bigness. “Help me roll this,” you say, motioning to the boulder. Some famous writer (I can’t remember who) once declared that nobody should ever use the word suddenly in his or her writing, but I can’t help it, for suddenly, suddenly, suddenly a boulder of a moment changes everything. Suddenly, life is different, and it happens just that way, in the midst of the slowly. All of a sudden.
Everything is different—almost everything—than it was a year ago, even six months ago. And it happened just the way you fall in love: Slowly, and all of a sudden.
I would know.