When he wasn’t obsessing in a fetishistic and creepy manner about his wife, Nora, or writing the virtually incomprehensible Ulysses, Irish writer James Joyce invented a literary device known as epiphany. That was very clever of him, because it is a device that transfers profoundly to real life.
Epiphany comes first and foremost as a Christian reference in that the day of the calendar is the day that Christ’s divinity was revealed to those at the time who might have been hankering for such a thing. In a literary sense it means, in barest essence, an incident or a time in which after a momentous change has taken place, we can never go back to what life was like before.
In that sense it certainly applies to the Christ connection, but it also applies to some of those events that have transformed you and the world – not always in a good way, I might add.
In a recent poll taken in Britain it was found that the three most traumatizing events in the modern era were, in descending order; 9/11, the death of Princess Diana, and the assassination of John Kennedy. Those were the kinds of events in which those who lived through them will not only remember the events with huge clarity; they will also remember the circumstances around first hearing the news. That is, if a person first became aware of the 9/11 horrors shortly after breakfast time, they also would be inclined to remember what they had at breakfast that day, and maybe even what they were wearing.
It’s understandable, by the way, that the Kennedy assassination should be at third place, mainly because to have been aware of its actuality, a person would now have to be in his or her late 40s to have had comprehension of the magnitude of Nov. 22, 1963.
As for Diana, I remember I got a late night phone call from a lady friend in Toronto who told me the news.
Of the Trade Center incident I can recall exactly what transpired. Wendy and I were in the Cook Islands and we’d gone in early in the morning to a little shop in Avarua, Rarotonga, to order some custom-embroidered sweatshirts. We gave our order, and the guy (an Australian) told us to come back in an hour to pick them up. When we returned, he ushered us into the cluttered back office of the shop. “Look at this,” he said, pointing to the computer screen. I couldn’t make it out at first, and was wondering why he wanted to show us a picture of an airplane crashing into a skyscraper. Then he explained what had happened. To say we were aghast would be to state the case mildly.
And, as we all know, from that day on, the world changed, not just a little bit, but monumentally. And, which is most important in the case of epiphany, ‘we can never go back!’ All about us has changed, and we as individuals have been transfigured and transformed. It’s a natural impulse to long for a return to normality. It will never transpire. We suffer from posttraumatic shock, and then we go through the stages-of-grief, and then we realize we will always be slightly diminished by that moment of epiphany.
Of course we, as human beings, have our personal moments of epiphany, and they aren’t ‘lesser’ events than the big cataclysmic ones, but possibly greater, because they shatter us within our own domains.
I can remember after my abrupt separation from my second wife, awakening in a state of shock and unreality for weeks afterwards, filled with denial about what had happened, and obsessively yearning to go back to just minutes before her uttering the words: “This isn’t working for me any more, so I want you to leave.” This utterance came virtually without warning that anything was amiss, by the way. So, you can imagine the profundity of that epiphany. And it was over. And I never went back. The blessing ultimately was that I was glad I never went back.
But, we have also suffered deaths of parents, sometimes spouses or partners, siblings and friends. We can’t have them return, but we are never the same as a result.
If we are strong enough, we grow from such experiences and we alter our perceptions, hopefully for the better.
Anyway, I would love your comments on your epiphanies (by the way, there can be very good epiphanies, too, such as meeting somebody and knowing virtually in an instant you love that person desperately – yes, I do believe in love at first sight – and that your life will ever after be altered) and what they meant to you.