We have all had experiences that have touched us deeply, moved us, sometimes in almost indefinable ways. Books, movies, places, people, experiences -- they all have the power to move us. I have been thinking about this recently, looking back on books, movies, and places that have sometimes brought me to tears.
When I was ten years old and in the fifth grade, I read E.B. White's Charlotte's Web. I grew up on a farm, but we had no pigs like Wilbur, nor spiders like Charlotte, yet the setting was familiar to me. The book enthralled me, but I was in no way prepared for the ending, for the love that Charlotte showed Wilbur and the sacrifice she made. I finished the book, lying on my bed, just before supper. My mother came to tell me it was time to eat, and she found me sobbing on my bed. Naturally she was alarmed but soon comforted me. For the first time, though I was already an avid reader, I discovered that books, stories, could break your heart.
Years later, in graduate school, a friend and I went to see the film "Sophie's Choice." I hadn't read the book, and I knew nothing about the story. Had I known the story, I might have reconsidered seeing the movie. I can't remember whether my friend had read the book either, but I do know that we both walked out of the theater after the film ended emotionally drained and tear-stained. That horrible moment when you finally understand the meaning of the title is utterly devastating. Thirty-plus years later, I still remember that scene and its impact. I had read books about the Holocaust and studied it in school, had been deeply affected by what I read, but this personal story brought it home at a visceral level.
In my youth I found other books deeply affecting, like Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. Later on, The Robe and Gone with the Wind, to name but a few. I have also had similar experiences with places. I fell in love with England and its history as a teenager, reading books like Anya Seton's Green Darkness and Katherine and Roberta Gellis's Bond of Blood. I wasn't able to travel to England until I was thirty. Stepping off that plane at Gatwick and seeing the countryside from the train to Victoria, I thought I was dreaming. With every place we visited, I fell more deeply in love. The beauty of York Minster stunned me, and standing on the spot beneath the Minster where Constantine was said to have declared himself emperor was an almost surreal moment. The same with visiting Canterbury Cathedral, where four of Henry II's knights murdered Thomas Becket.
Four years ago I achieved one of the items on my bucket list. I traveled to Turkey and Greece with two friends, and I was at last able to step over the threshold of Justinian's magnificent Church of Holy Wisdom, or Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul. Despite the crowds of tourists around me, I felt moved to tears standing in this ancient place. I felt the same again standing before the omphalion, where Byzantine emperors were crowned.
Back in 2012 I visited London and Paris for a few days with friends. This was my second visit to Paris, and among my most treasured moments are the visit to the Orangerie Museum to see Monet's "Waterlilies." I could have sat for hours and stared at these serene images. Later we went to the Musée d'Orsay and viewed its stunning collections. (The building itself, formerly a train station, is pretty stunning, too.) My favorite section, of course, was the gallery of Impressionist paintings. The opportunity finally to see the actual paintings I'd seen in books and images was almost overwhelming.
Now that I've shared some of my favorite moving experiences with you, what are some of yours?