Friday, November 23, 2012

On the Moment Before the Moment

Dear Mackenzie,

At 5:56 P.M. on Friday, November 16th, 2012, I got a call at work from your sister Jamie. I’d given my assistant strict instructions that afternoon to put Jamie through no matter what I was doing when she called, but the timing was off. I was expecting the call at 6:01PM and not a minute before.  “I’m shaking and I can’t stop crying”, she said when I picked up. “Can you stay on the phone with me for a few minutes?”

We chatted about this and that, but the topics didn’t really matter. Jamie just needed for time to pass.  At exactly 6:00P.M. Jamie took a deep breath, said she’d call me back, and jumped off.

I’d been there before. We all have. Jamie was experiencing that excruciating phenomenon known as the moment before the moment. I knew I’d be hearing from her again shortly so I didn’t want to get on another call. Instead, my mind wandered to an excruciating “moment before” that I myself experienced in June of 1999.

Your mom and I had been dating for about seven months and we had planned a vacation together. At the time your mom was living in Philadelphia and I was in Los Angeles, so we decided to meet up in New York and fly to Europe from there.  Unbeknownst to your mom, I also planned to ask her to marry me.

Of course that presented certain questions. Should I propose to her in New York? Should I wait until we got to Europe and propose to her among the ancient ruins of Rome, one of the most romantic cities on earth?

There was much debate among my friends. My female friends favored the romantic city of Rome. My more practical friends worried about my losing the ring, or about your mom finding it prematurely. My most cynical friend asked the searing question: “What if she says no?”

I didn’t think your mom would say no, my sweet daughter. But then again you don’t really know for sure until you actually ask the question. I decided to propose to her in New York, but I wanted to make the moment as romantic and memorable as possible.

I knew Central Park pretty well because I had organized a big event there for the World Cup, and I remembered a beautiful secluded area near Sheep Meadow that I thought would provide the perfect setting. I intended to propose to her there, and then take her on a carriage ride around the park.

My friend John Moeller had worked with me on the World Cup and was very connected in the city. So he arranged for a beautiful carriage, stocked with champagne and chocolate covered strawberries, to meet us at a pre-determined location at the park entrance.  The driver would be holding a bouquet of yellow flowers so I could identify him. As it turned out I didn’t need the identifying flowers, but I did have to convince the driver that we were in fact the couple he was there to escort.

Anyway, that was in the days before texting and smartphones, so very late the night before I made up some excuse to leave the hotel room for a minute so I could confirm that the carriage was in place. Apparently I wasn’t a very polished liar, and months later your mom confessed that when I left the room that night she feared I was calling another woman!

The next morning I suggested we go to the Starbucks near the park. I had the engagement ring in my pocket and a knot in my stomach. When we walked outside it was drizzling but I was determined to carry out my plan. To my relief, your mom followed my lead.

We strolled into the park and of all things, the area I had in mind was roped off.  Your mom must have thought I was nuts as I kept walking her around the park trying to improvise the perfect spot.  Finally we came upon a clearing with a little bench on it, and it was deserted except for a homeless guy nearby.

The rain was picking up, and I walked your mom over to the bench.  My heart was pounding and my mouth was dry. I took a deep breath, held her hand in mine, got down on bended knee, told your mom I loved her and wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, and asked her to marry me.

The moment before the moment. I held my breath and waited for her answer. We stayed frozen like that for an eternity, which in real time was no more than a second or two. The homeless guy gave me a very sympathetic look. Finally your mom said “get up, honey, your pants are getting dirty”.

I was lifted from my reverie by my assistant, who poked his head in to tell me Jamie was again on the phone.  It was 6:01PM.  The moment before had given way to the actual moment. My heart jumped to my throat but I said “hi, sweetheart” as casually as I could muster.  

I heard the lightness in her voice and in that instant I knew Jamie had passed the California Bar Exam. I congratulated her and told her how proud I was of her. We spoke for a few seconds, and then I told her to make her other calls and we would speak later. I also didn’t want her to hear me cry.

In the end, Mackenzie, it’s about the moment, not the moment before.  I would certainly have been just as proud of Jamie if she hadn’t passed. It’s just a test. But now she can bask in that achievement forever, whether or not she ever practices law a day in her life.

And I will forever remember Jamie’s moment before. I wonder if the homeless guy in Central Park still remembers mine.

All my everlasting love,


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