Monday, August 22, 2005

Melancholy Monday: Untranslatable Moments

When I was 24 years old, I lived in Boston. I worked in the operations department for a broker dealer called Linsco Private Ledger (LPL). My brother worked across Federal Street at Scudder. I enjoyed my job in a corporate environment; however, I was wrestling with starting a Ph.D. I had to make a decision between a life in mutual funds (or some other corner of the world of finance) and a complete dedication to the life of the mind.

The choice was actually quite difficult. I didn't particularly like the substance of my work at LPL, but I really liked the people: the guys from Southie who were heavy drinkers, proud Irish Catholics, and fiercely loyal. I also loved having my brother near me. We had the same circle of friends, and spent the summer before I left visiting places like Wolfeboro, NH. My brother played on LPL's softball team, and I religiously attended the games to support my team.

The perks of corporate life are also pretty enticing: free Bruin's tickets, fancy expense-account dinners, excellent investment advice from the trading room, and the beloved homerun pool (which I won before I left).

I also had started a rather intoxicating romance with someone in Boston, and I knew that if I left to start my Ph.D. the relationship wouldn't survive. I would leave my brother behind, the promise of wealth, a great apartment in Brighton, and my new friends.

I spoke with one of the VP's in the office, a woman who had an MA in Literature and she persuaded me to consider the upsides of not continuing my graduate work. Another VP, who had been a Philosophy major at Boston College as an undergrad, encouraged me to follow my dreams. After much wrestling with the decision, I accepted the offer at my New York graduate school and put in my two weeks notice at LPL.

I will never forget my last day at work, and my last night in Boston. My Southie buddies took me out for beers in Fanueil Hall and then I hailed a cab back to the Brighton. Taking a cab home was a real luxury in those days.

What I can still conjure up, almost as if it was yesterday, was that cab ride home. It was one of those rare moments in my life where I actually knew its significance and I was trying to soak up every detail that I could. That cab ride marked a passage in my life, one in which I was wholly uncertain if I was making the right decision, and in which I was slowly letting go of a place and people I loved dearly.

The cabbie followed along the Charles river, exiting in Cambridge near the Harvard football stadium, through Watertown, and then onto Brighton. We drove by places that were magical for me (which, sorry, I am keeping to myself ) and I took mental pictures. In fact, all of these years later, I can still visualize the map of my favorite haunts in Boston: the coffee shops, theatres, bookstores, blues bar, softball field in Newton, bagel shop in Newton Corner, etc.

The best analogy that I can make to how I felt in that cab ride lies in the film Lost in Translation. This film is an exquisite rendering of the impossible task of trying to hold onto a moment that, by its very structure, cannot be held onto. Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johanssen) are wholly aware that they are already saying goodbye.

The film also ends with a secret: Bob whispers something into Charlotte's ear that we cannot hear. I love that ending, because, for me, it highlights what is profound about fleeting moments--they have a significance for us that we can never fully translate to others.

UPDATE: gxx at Rude Barbie has been inspired by this post to write her own amazing, nostalgic reminiscience. And, many others are in the comments section below.