(This charming email was sent to me today by my father, Hugh James, who lives in Ashton, Western Province, South Africa)
It was at the bottom of my garden that I encountered the manifestation of an experience which recurs many times. The experience itself was simple, even trivial, surprisingly vivid and accompanied by an almost overwhelming onrush of happiness.
I was alone in the garden. The sun was shining with that peculiar benignity that comes with the start of summer. I had wondered alone slowly along the gravel path, eyes down and hands in pockets.
I sat on the rough bench next to my potting table and there wafted pleasant odours of humus and grass clippings. I sat there in the sunshine and there on the gravel path in front of me was a snail.
He was a perfectly ordinary snail and he was making his patient way across the path with all the leisurely determination of his kind. Behind him his silvery trail gleamed faintly over the stones. I watched him idly, kicking at the gravel with my heel and as I watched, there came over me the most extraordinary feeling of happiness and contentment. Its ingredients were comfort, well-being and leisure. The sun was warm on my back, I had neither ulcer nor toothache and time was my own. If I wanted to I could sit there for a very long time indeed and watch my snail.
If I wanted to (but I didn’t) I could get up there and then and walk back into the house and leave my solitary snail to go its lonely way.
The choice was mine and the moment was mine to make what I would of it.
Nobody called out to me to come and attend to a chore and so I sat there and the moment was timeless and without ending, a moment of utter peace, my revelation of that inner happiness that comes from time to time throughout a human life and lights it up and gives it form and meaning . . .