Fleeting Magic: Don’t let life’s big moments pass you by

We are passengers on a rock swinging through the solar system in a celestial dance choreographed by forces beyond our ken and control. Awe is an uplifting emotion. It is good to feel small, to sense how brief and fragile our lives are in astronomical terms, to see that beyond the mundane lies a great mystery. – William Falk, Editor-in-chief, THE WEEK

By the time you read this column, the full solar eclipse will be several weeks old. That won’t stop me from using the eclipse to make a point. Big events capture our imaginations and inspire us. They open our minds to life’s great mysteries. We let go of the day-to-day and grip something larger than self. It’s as if the heavens open and turn off our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts. We are reminded there is a big world out there, even a galaxy. Our lives are better when we embrace the magic of these moments and gather them into our souls.

I witnessed the eclipse from the balcony of the Thomas S. Monson Center on South Temple Street. I was joined by about 30 other co-workers and University of Utah students. As we looked up to the sky, I also looked down to the ground. Big events like a solar eclipse have their greatest meaning when grounded in the day-to-day. It got me thinking about other bigger-than-life moments, how they impacted me and what I learned from those experiences.

I had one of these moments at a Paul McCartney concert at Rio Tinto Stadium. Listening to the lead man for The Beatles play songs that had been a memorable part of my childhood, teenage years and adulthood left me in a state of serious enjoyment and reflection. My world expanded. Here I was in my hometown, listening for three hours to someone who was arguably one of the most well-known people in the world, singing songs I knew every word to and watching him smile as he shared his remarkable talent and place in history. “Hey Jude,” “Yesterday,” “Paperback Writer,” “Blackbird” and “The Long and Winding Road” would never be the same. The McCartney concert gave me lift. I felt connected to my past and to others. It was a moving moment.

I often have moving moments in the Wasatch Mountains. Spring, summer and fall are lovely in the canyons, but my most profound memories happen in the wintertime when the peaks, cliffs and inclines are covered in white against a brilliant blue sky. I remember as a teenager a vivid moment at Snowbird on the Regulator Johnson, run right off the tram. My friends had skied ahead of me. I was alone on the steep vertical fall line staring at the expansive terrain and the majesty of the adjoining mountain peaks. I felt a strong sensation that I was connected to a much grander plan. The experience gave anchor to my soul and increased my confidence. Who knew skiing could have that effect? Skiing may be a sport, but it’s also a form of therapy.

Another memorable moment was my first visit to the D-Day beaches in Normandy, France. This was one of America’s finest moments and I felt it during my visit. The most penetrating feeling came when I visited the Normandy American Cemetery where 9,387 American military dead are interred. There, as I looked over Omaha Beach and the English Channel, and listened to the carillon play “God Bless America” I felt a sense of valor, patriotism and meaning. America’s greatest generation did their part. I’m of a different generation, but have my own calling. I, too, can do my part.

When my son returned from an LDS mission I had another one of these treasured and profound experiences. I’m sure it’s the same for families that welcome home service men and women, or other loved ones, who have been away for a long time. When my son returned I remember a sense of exhilaration that rivaled childbirth, only better. This young man left everything he loved to serve beautiful people and honor his faith. His sacrifice made him and our family stronger. It was a lovely, grand moment to welcome him back into our arms.

C.S. Lewis once said, “There are two great days in the life of a person: the day they were born and the day they learned why they were born.”

I encourage you to take a piece of paper and jot down the times you were completely alive in the moment. Think about what made the experience so memorable and positive. Capture, if you can, the meaning of the moment. How did your perspective change? What did you learn?

The full solar eclipse teaches us to not let life’s big moments pass us by. Look for them, cultivate them, remember them. We are a part of something larger than self. Life is a wonderful gift. Capture the moments and enjoy every day.

Natalie Gochnour is chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber and an associate dean in the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah.