I was standing before a Gustav Klimt painting when I felt him. A man I’d just met was right behind me. His hand had reached out, a half inch from my dark hair, searching for a connection and a true sense of me.
Pretending not to notice, I gazed at the pale-skinned woman in the painting, who seemed to be dressed in golden tiles, against a golden wall. The portrait is a real showstopper, housed within New York’s Neue Galerie.
We’d decided to meet there for a first date. An online dating service had brought us together, me with the tagline: “Long stemmed glass seeks Chateauneuf du Pape” (which scored me some nice bottles of wine). And he had a tagline that spoke to his Creole roots. New Orleans is one of my favorite cities, so I was immediately intrigued.
But meeting him in person, I wasn’t so sure. As we sipped coffee in the museum’s café, it became clear that he thought he knew a lot about the media industry, which is my journalistic specialty. His information wasn’t quite right, and his provocative tone was exasperating.
My jaded sensibility about dating in general flared. I made a decision not to see him again. But as we parted ways at the subway stop, he said to me: “Aren’t you going to drop a glove?”
The chivalrous, old world sensibility made me laugh. I handed him my card. One date followed another, and I began to realize how wrong I’d been about David—that talking with him over dinner was my favorite part of any day.
One small moment. He changed my annoyance into humor. If I hadn’t given him my contact information, I would have lost the opportunity for such a wealth of adventures, and the experience of intertwined lives over many years. And now that’s gone, but for the memories. Next weekend, I’ll be sending off his ashes with family and friends, in New Orleans.
The moment left such an impression that I wrote it into my sci-fi novel, THE JUICE. Two characters fall in love before one of my favorite paintings. Frédéric Bazille’s FAMILY REUNION. Through the wonders of imaginative thinking, I’d had it transported to the private gallery of a futuristic media conglomerate. The characters irk each other, and become magnetized at the same time, right there before the painting.
It’s been said that humans make judgement calls about things in seven seconds. What if we make the wrong ones, decide against someone who could change our world in extraordinary ways?
Those pivotal moments, good and bad, can emerge so randomly. Last weekend, a pal of mine was walking through a very upscale community in New York, at 7:30 in the morning, when she was stalked by a man. He hunted her down, street after street, driving a Frankenstein-like car, a patched together old-parts monster without a license plate.
My friend is a slight woman of a certain age who managed to get away by slipping unseen into a schoolyard. As she is also very wise, she did some breathing exercises to rid herself of the trembling fear. One small moment, a serene stroll turned into a hunt, with herself as prey. One small series of moments, breath by breath, she didn’t let him ruin her day.
There’s no way to know when sudden currents will pull us in completely different directions, unexpected pivots that could lead us toward new light, or into the dark. The trick, it seems, is to be aware that they will come – perhaps only every five years, or 10, maybe more frequently – and to perceive the positive new directions, when they do.