By Mary Kay Seales
Perfect Moments. That’s what I call those weird mystical time-stop moments when everything you are and everything you dreamed of having or being come together. It may last only a few minutes or a few hours, but for that moment, things are “perfect.”
I’m a child of the 1950’s, raised in a small town in an Irish Catholic family. We did not travel outside of Washington State for the most part, but I so longed to. I lived my fantasy travel life inside the pages of National Geographic magazine, and on the ship with Magellan in my second grade classroom; in the pages of the Maryknoll Missionary magazines at church with articles about Dr. Albert Schweitzer working in the Congo.
I came out of the womb wanting to travel, and so I have.
Two terms with the Peace Corps in Costa Rica and the DRC, Machu Picchu, Jerusalem, India, Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka, Mallorca, Thailand, Paris and Nice. My list goes on.
On just a few occasions, I have had transcendental experiences, which I term “perfect moments.” Perhaps you’ve had them as well.
One Perfect Moment
Haiti, 1990. I am teaching at a little school outside Port-au-Prince, my two-year-old daughter in tow. Sixteen children. Sixteen different ages. Snakes in the bushes. No books. No phone. No car. No electricity. No classroom! Just my front yard with a chalk board and a rough cement pool, where the neighbors came to get water, and where I dared to also swim on occasion.
At the time, Haiti’s dictatorship under the Duvaliers, Papa Doc and then his son, Baby Doc, and the soldiers of the dreaded Tonton Macoute had officially ended, but the soldiers of the Tonton Macoute continued to wield power and wreck havoc among the Haitian people even at the time of my stay.
In February of that year, 1990, the young priest, Jean Bertrand Aristide, was leading protests in the streets, promising to lead the people to a more democratic society. As things heated up heading into the resulting coup that took place that coming March, I realized this was no place for an American woman with a two-year old child. I quickly packed up my things and went to Port-au-Prince to catch a flight home.
So there I was in Haiti, fleeing in a way.
A friend found me a room in a little hotel in Port-au-Prince, and since my flight didn’t leave until the next day, he offered to take me to dinner at the famed Hotel Oloffson in the heart of the city for my last supper. This hotel plays a role as one of the settings for Graham Green’s book The Comedians, a prize-winning novel about Papa Doc and the Tonton Macoute.
At the restaurant, wild costumed dancers entertained us. It was terribly colonial, but all the same, it was beautiful and I loved it. An older Haitian gentleman, exquisitely dressed, approached our table and took the tiny hand of my two-year-old daughter and said, “Bon soir, Mademoiselle,” “Good Evening.”
After he left, my friend told me Graham Greene had based one of his characters in The Comedians on this man.
We were then interrupted by a raucous gathering outside the restaurant. We left our seats to find a parade passing by below the grand patio of this historic hotel. It was the end of February and the exact day of Mardi Gras. What timing! Costumed dancers passing by, singing, laughing. It was a scene right out of a movie. James Bond, I think.
And to top it off?
It was a clear full-on full moon night. Could things get more perfect? More adventurous? More interesting? That would be difficult.
I remember returning to my hotel room that night and putting my daughter to bed. We would catch a flight to Seattle the next morning. I went out on the little patio with my friend who was saving me. Looking up at the moon, I distinctly remember thinking what a crazy, wild, incredible and very, very perfect moment this was for this 1950’s child from Port Orchard, Washington, who wanted so desperately to travel the world.
I have had a few other perfect moments in distant places, and I live for more of them. But this one comes back to me again and again.