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Mary Nicotera: Take time to savor life’s ‘aha’ moments

It was a spectacular evening in the Virgin Islands. We were with colleagues on a bank awards trip in the ’90s, returning to St. Thomas by boat after a fabulous dinner on neighboring St. John’s. Feeling happy and satisfied, we sat on the top level with nothing but the sky above us. Other vessels in the water were decorated with twinkling white lights, and thousands of stars seemed close enough to touch.

One person in our group was inspired to start singing a little ditty, and soon we all chimed in. This totally unexpected, spontaneous moment from a bevy of bank managers thus earned its place as one of the treasured “aha” moments in my life.

I’m referring to experiences that make your heart swell with the feeling that life can’t possibly get better than that precious moment. But if you’re fortunate, it does. Again and again.

Glacier National Park is a spectacular sight to behold. My daughter and I spent a few days there in 2010, and we decided to take a 1.5-mile nature hike. That might not seem challenging, but it was a warm day and this trail wound through the woods on an uphill climb. After a quick stop at a pit toilet (I have a picture to prove it), we thought about turning around.

Instead, we forged ahead and were rewarded for our perseverance. The woods suddenly opened up to a glistening, clear lake and a gorgeous waterfall. After celebrating our good fortune, we quietly relaxed in the sun for a while, lying on a giant boulder. This is a special memory of time spent with my daughter, and I love thinking about it.

About 20 years ago, our extended family was seated in church for my brother’s wedding. Unbeknownst to any of us, my father – who hadn’t sung in public for many years – had been practicing for weeks in preparation to sing at his youngest son’s nuptials. Imagine our surprise when we heard Dad’s voice soaring from the rafters, singing “Ave Maria.” It was an overwhelming, three-tissue performance and is forever etched in my heart and soul.

Italy is filled with many picturesque visions, without question. We traveled there in 2011, and spent our last few days in Lake Como. Contrary to what you may be thinking, my “aha” moment in Como was not a result of a clandestine meeting with George Clooney. It happened as we crossed the lake by boat, destined for Bellagio.

We were surrounded by sheer beauty, including spectacular villas, sculptured gardens and graceful swans all presented before us at the foot of the majestic, snow- capped Alps. We felt like we were in a live action classic Italian oil painting, and this remains a cherished day in our lives.

There are many others, like being mesmerized by Hal Ketchum as he sung “On the Wings of a Snow White Dove” at the end of his show at Shea’s. I literally had an out-of-body experience and imagined I was floating above the stage.

Or when I entered what was then Rich Stadium for the very first time and was blown away by the massive structure and the realization that I was merely one of 80,000 people there, all with a common cause.

Experiences like these are the “aha” moments that help to keep me focused on the positive, even when life threatens to toss me into the abyss. When I take time to savor these amazing, life-enriching events, inevitably I find my way back to calm and a happy heart.

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