Travelling long-term brings plenty of opportunities for large-scale adventures like visiting famous sites, taking in major events and becoming immersed in different cultures. These experiences can leave lasting impressions that excite, inspire and even shift paradigms.

But sometimes it’s the small-scale experiences that leave their mark. They’re the moments that sparkle as you go about everyday living. They warm the heart and amplify the joy of what it means to be alive.

Many of these gems come as a result of noticing quirky little things people do. Someone does something a touch unexpected, a little outside the norm, and I find myself captivated by the spirit of that person.  

The victor

One such moment happened recently at a grocery store—a mundane, everyday grocery store where people dutifully rattle oversized shopping carts through miles of choices to make.

There are rows upon rows of powdered goods vying for attention, each with their ‘new and improved’ packaging. Cookies, crackers, dehydrated potatoes and a zillion different kinds of rice all lie boxed up and lifeless on shelf after shelf.

As I walk down one of the many interminable aisles, I hear the muffled voice of an excited, fast-talking man going on about something I can’t quite catch. As I push my cart further, I realize the sounds are coming from a cell phone perched on a wheeled table full of jars of marmalade that are waiting to be priced.

A guy in maybe his mid-twenties, wearing a shirt with the store’s logo embroidered on it, is holding a price gun and repetitively attaching tags to jars, stacking them on a shelf a little above the height of his head. Over and over again.

As I approach, I can make out the voice coming through the cell phone speaker more clearly and realize it’s an announcer calling an Italian soccer game. Now, I don’t know what the store’s policy is on employees listening to sports games while working, but I’m guessing they would frown on the volume at which this one is being blared.

And all of a sudden, that magic moment happens when the announcer loses his mind with uncontrollable exuberance and belts out, “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!!!!!!!!”

The employee, conscious of his need to keep his professionalism in his role as marmalade-pricer, keeps himself from dancing through the aisle. But there’s nothing stopping a huge grin from taking over his entire face and his head from nodding vigorously—jaw protruding—while his right arm pulls back into that ‘Yes!’ motion.

Nothing is going to stop him from joyfully sharing this sweet victory with his team—not a stack of jars, not customers meandering around him, not any rule about what staff can and can’t do on the job—nothing!

This is his victory, as much as it is the announcer’s and the team’s.

Looking the other way, so as not to intrude on his celebration, I walk by. But as I do, I have my own ear-to-ear grin, savouring my delight in a fellow human being’s display of individuality and joy.

The runaway

Only a few days later, another standout moment. This one happens at a touristy, pedestrian-only area full of streets lined with cute coffee shops and boutiques. Being the off-season, the area is only mildly trafficked, allowing me the chance to slow down and enjoy the space.

An overstuffed electric scooter with thighs and buttocks spilling over the sides comes barrelling down the pedestrian walkway in my direction, at an alarming speed.

I find an iron lattice patio chair at a cafe and settle into my hot chocolate and macaron, breathing in the fresh air and watching people stroll through shops and down the street.

Suddenly, I hear a door open wide with a thud. The next thing I know, an overstuffed electric scooter with thighs and buttocks spilling over the sides comes barrelling down the pedestrian walkway in my direction, at an alarming speed.

As the scooter zips down the street, a slender woman in about her thirties, dragging along a child who looks barely able to stand on her own two feet, is charging out of the bakery. In hot pursuit of the runaway scooter, she yells out, “Put it in slow, Aunt Mary!”

I fall in love with this moment right then and there!

Who is this Aunt Mary with the sudden need to put her not-quite-a-Harley into full throttle with such reckless abandon, ignoring the helpless pleas of her protective niece?

I catch a glimpse of her as she races by me. She’s perhaps in her seventies, with long white hair and a blue and green striped shirt waving in the breeze she’s creating with her speed. Icing sugar from the doughnut she holds in one hand cakes the corners of her mouth, spread wide with delight.

Aunt Mary is having the time of her life.

Now, I don’t know any more than what I see, but I imagine a scenario in which the medical professionals Aunt Mary sees, along with her family, want her to eat healthy and lose weight. Her weight gain is affecting her heart and mobility. Maybe she tries really hard to do what she’s told, reduce portion sizes, cut out certain foods, eat more vegetables. But it’s not working, and she’s missing out on the foods she loves.

Aunt Mary caught the moment she had to regain control of what she wants. Her niece was occupied with her own daughter, and Mary snuck the saleslady a five-dollar bill in exchange for the world’s most delicious-looking doughnut. She told her to keep the change—time was at a premium.

Before anyone knew what was happening, Aunt Mary had charged through the door and down the street, determined not to slow down until she’d eaten the entire powder-covered pastry of bliss.

All I can do is cheer her on with a nod as she whizzes by.

Joy is unstoppable

When I reflect on what it is about these two snapshots of life that sparkle so brightly for me, a commonality begins to emerge. It’s how these two people orchestrated their own circumstances to defy constraints put on them by institutions and others in order to thoroughly enjoy what brings them life.

These are small but significant moments of freedom. And they make me realize how significant every moment truly is.


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