It’s peculiar how the little things in life often seem to be the ones that carry the most meaning.
In the 1947 black-and-white movie “Miracle on 34th Street” (I know you all have watched it at least a thousand times), Fred (young single lawyer) tells Doris (overworked single mom advertising exec) not to “… overlook those lovely intangibles. You’ll discover those are the only things that are worthwhile.”
I guess I first heard that phrase when I was in my mid-20s, maybe a little older. It must have meant something to me because it stuck with me, but I didn’t really comprehend what it meant.
As a young, hard-charging Marine, I was living in the world of tangibles: Work hard, play hard, accomplish the mission, take the hill!
No, it wasn’t until much later in life that I began to really understand about those “lovely intangibles.”
As I have matured into a still hard-charging-but-not-nearly-as-fast older Marine in retired status awaiting further orders, I begin to comprehend.
Slowing the pace enables one to capture those vignettes of life that define us as humans. It’s like going slow-mo in a video so you can catch a glimpse of the ghost that brushed the main character’s arm.
I guess that’s what lovely intangibles are; they’re fleeting, ghostly glimpses of life when, for whatever reason, something causes our normally fast-paced view of life to go slow-mo for a few seconds as we, consciously or unconsciously, observe something that touches us.
Pinning down examples is like seeing that ghost in the video. I’ve got to access the “slow-mo folder” in my brain to pull up past files.
OK, here’s one: I’ve got this picture in my head of a dad with his 4-year old son, hand in hand, walking away from me up a hill on a beautiful summer morning in Georgia.
As they walk, Dad is looking down as his son looks up at him and tells him something that is on his mind. Whatever it is, it makes Dad laugh, pick up his boy, swing him high in the air and land him on his shoulders. The boy is giggling.
It’s a Norman Rockwell painting in motion; a lovely intangible of life as it should be.
Lovely intangibles are fleeting, elusive, ethereal; they are the snap of a camera shutter capturing a moment in time forever. They are looped video reels playing the same scene over and over.
But bundled up in each are emotions and ideas and life lessons that define who we are, where we’ve come from, what our values are and other loosely defined characteristics that can be called intangibles.
It’s those lovely intangibles that make life worthwhile.
Here’s another snapshot that plays out in my mind at unexpected times.
A full-page picture of a mother in Life magazine, holding a picture of her son, a Marine in his dress blues. She is looking straight into the camera, right into my eyes, into my soul, asking me, “Why? Why my boy?”
Her boy was one of 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers killed in the terrorist bombing of a barracks in Beirut on October 23, 1983. He was one of a total 270 servicemen killed in Beirut during our mission there from 1982-84.
She is not unlike my own mother, who could have been staring out from the picture, asking the same question had I not stopped for a cup of coffee that October morning in Beirut, keeping me out of that barracks, keeping me alive.
Why? Why her son and not me?
As I sat alone in pre-dawn hours looking at that picture near Christmastime 1983, having just returned from Beirut, seeing the depth of the pain in that mother’s eyes, I had no idea why. I suddenly lost it and allowed my tears to flow.
Even now, as I think I’ve left it behind, I sit in the pre-dawn hours nearly 30 years later and the tears still well up in my eyes.
Another lovely but painful intangible that reminds me that, even on bad days, things could be worse and my life has been spared for some greater purpose as yet unrevealed to me.
The lovely intangibles are what they are. We have no real control over them. By their very definition, they are incorporeal, immaterial, not definite or clear to the mind.
But for some reason they are important in our lives.
Lovely intangibles can be fleeting moments, such as catching the glimpse of a stranger’s eyes at a moment of distress, telling you they understand your plight.
Or they can be longer clips, such as the memory of Todd Beamer’s last words aboard United Airlines Flight 93 on the morning of September 11, 2001, as he led the charge to stop terrorist plans: “Let’s Roll.”
They’re only two words, not very impressive in and of themselves; but put into context of the moment when they were spoken, they carry the power of the indomitable human spirit.
When I think something is too hard for me to do, I think of Todd Beamer and those people on Flight 93 and suddenly things don’t seem so impossible. Let’s roll.
I think the lovely intangibles are like fingerprints; each set identifies individual people and no two are exactly alike.
You and I will see the same event but come away with two different views. Though our views may be similar, there will be defining differences that will make each of our views singular.
So, as you get ready to cue up Friday, April 20, 2012, slow the pace down a bit, lean back, take another sip of coffee, and spend a little time thinking about your own lovely intangibles.
And if the urge strikes you, share one or two with other PRB readers here.
Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, who also served until recently in municipal parks and recreation, lives in Peachtree City, Ga., and can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.