“Hope springs from that which is right in front of us, which surprises us, and seems to work.” —Anne Lamott
The thing about wonder, or rather our sense of wonder, is we usually start to lose it right around the time we’re shedding the last of our baby teeth.
A few of us don’t, of course, but for the bulk of everyone else there comes an indistinguishable tipping point when the jaundiced side of life gets its cynical hooks in us, when the very things that were once spellbinding become mundane or irrelevant.
—“What’s the big whoop? It’s just a cloud.”
—“I’ve seen plenty of dolphins. Let’s go to the movies instead.”
—“What, is this your first sunset?”
—“God no, we don’t make-out anymore. We’re married.”
Speaking of God, thank God for children. Children with their innate curiosity. Their fresh eyes and ears. Their untainted imaginations.
Here’s what Picasso had to say about that:
“Every child is an artist. The problem is he/she grows up.”
Children see things we don’t because they’re not jaded. What’s right in front of them could well be something beguiling, something possibly containing wonder:
A bug. The radioactive green moss on a tree. The way a wad of gum looks exactly like Mr. Magoo. Rain puddles.
When my son was around six, he was involved in soccer, as most kids are anymore. He was quite good and, like his father, also very competitive. (Maybe even hyper-competitive.)
One day during his match, a sudden surge of rain showed up, making things miserable for a while until the sun eventually broke through. It ended up being a very close match, but my son’s team won, against their toughest opponent. Immediately after the whistle blew, I sauntered out onto the field to congratulate my boy, to tell him how proud I was. To my surprise, he didn’t seem to care about that at all. Instead, he sort of started hyperventilating. Then he pointed upward. Then he started skipping in place, almost chanting, saying, “Dad! Dad! Can you see it? Huh? It’s a double-rainbow! A double-rainbow!”
It was indeed a double-rainbow, the first of its kind I’d ever seen. It was breathtaking, and I’d have missed it completely if it weren’t for the wondering eyes of my seven-year-old.
Another time, a couple years after 9/11, there was a documentary on TV hosted by Robert De Niro. For some insane reason, I thought this could be a good teaching moment for my daughter Madison, who was five at the time. On TV, they’d left none of the horror out. Sirens shrieked. The towers smoked. People leapt off them. My stomach felt like snakes were eating the lining. But I was so riveted and repulsed that I temporarily forgot Madison was also watching, that it had been my wise idea to have her view the program with me.
After the show finished, I turned and sheepishly asked Madison her thoughts. She balled her fists up, stretched, yawned and said, “The buildings were so pretty and blue, like the color of the sea.”
Kids. While I saw a horror movie, my daughter saw skyscrapers made from the ocean.
But sometimes even children need a push.
One time when my daughter was 11 and my son 7, it started to hail. You should know that I’m a huge fan of hail. Everything about it fascinates me. But this wasn’t any normal run-of-the-mill hail. It was tons and tons of icy Dippin’ Dots raining down. And it was LOUD.
I was off from work that day, so I ran outside in my jeans, t-shirt and bare feet. I held my arms out and tipped my face skyward. Then for some inexplicable reason, I started to twirl.
My daughter and son stared down from the window before my daughter cranked it open and asked, what she thought was a reasonable question: “Dad, are you nuts?!”
My reply, which I literally had to shout, due to the clatter of white pebbles pinging everywhere was, “DON’T YOU SEE THIS? IT’S HAIL. YOU HAVE TO LOVE THE HAIL WHEN IT COMES.”
Their reply was terse: “You ARE nuts!”
But the thing is, less than thirty seconds later, both kids were outside with me, barefoot, giggling and twirling inside one of the most beautiful hailstorms I’ve ever encountered. To this day, every time we get even a morsel of hail, I think back to that moment when my children and I relished the wonder of hail.
Now I live on a small lake in the boondocks. There’s a beaver that swims the length of the lake, westward in the morning, then back eastward around dusk. I’ve watched him make this trek close to a hundred times, and each time it’s still like witnessing God’s handiwork in motion.
Same with the eagle who lives in a nest next door. (I call him Pete for some reason even unbeknownst to me.) I see Pete soar or zip by my office window several times a day, and each time, I make myself stop whatever I’m doing and just watch what Pete is up to. I try to remind myself that something could happen tomorrow, and either Pete or I might not be around to experience each other again.
There’s wonder and beauty everywhere—in music, art, nature. There’s even beauty in what some might define as ugly. We just have to recalibrate our lenses and be ready to find it.
When I worked in the corporate world, I drank the Kool-Aid, and then some. I worked ridiculous hours, not because I had to, but because I ludicrously thought that would better serve the company. Consequently, I wasn’t home as much as I now wish I would have been. To make up for those absences, I’d do grandiose things for my kids when I could. I thought, the bigger and more outlandish the event, the better the experience would be. For instance, I took my daughter to The Grammy Awards. I got her front row seats at Britney Spears when Britney was “still-a-girl-and-not-yet-a-woman.”
After I left the corporate world, I drove my son to school or else I’d sit with him in the car at the bus stop. It was nothing like watching Beyoncé and Prince perform together at The Grammys. But in a lot of ways, it was way better. It was just us, just he and I. We’d talk about nothing and everything, but those two subjects—nothing and everything—seemed like the most significant things in the world. A kid in his class became more important than Prince Harry. His school paper was more noteworthy than To Kill A Mockingbird. Clouds became things made of magic. Certain trees looked like people. When you’re sitting in a car, with time on your hands, if you open up the receptors, even the mundane contains sprigs of wonder. Sometimes, in fact, the mundane is overstuffed with wonder.
Here’s some advice from my mentor, Anne Lamott: “For now, just look out the window at a bird. Those little show-offs with their pure piping song can be the morning’s reset button. In a pinch, even absurd, big silent, gangly birds can do the trick.”
Even the “absurd” can show us different sides of wonder. If we let them, they can.