Wonder; two ways
Wild flowers. Maple leaves. Clouds moseying across the sky. The intricate textures of moss, and ferns, and bark have also been known to stop me in my tracks; among the millions of other marvels in this world. My photo library is full of mushroom gills, and rain drop studded leaves, and close up shots of other everyday visual vignettes that enchant me. My poor husband knows this better than anyone. Hikes, walks to the grocery store, and trips to the museum take us twice as long as it should because some flowering weed, or other negligible detail will lull me in, begging me to pay attention.
I’ve recently begun calling these ‘little wonders’. Solely based on their size, and not at all based on their impact, because little wonders can be truly massive.
Scientific studies do not usually hold my attention for long, but I’m always fascinated by whatever I do manage to absorb. Science 101, for instance, still floors me. If I didn’t know better I’d think that photosynthesis was made up. Think about it: plants can make their own food using the sun. (Witchcraft!) And atoms make up molecules which interact to form cells which form tissue which make up our organs. And if that’s not bizarre enough, all of those organs work to keep us alive without a thought on our part while we sit here doing important work, like watching season 5 of Schitt’s Creek.
Further, I read Hidden Life of Trees awhile ago, and scientists have proven that trees actually communicate to each other via roots and fungal networks. Not only that but trees go out of their way to help their brother trees, and even trees of other species. (When I read that chapter my heart sank into all the warm fuzzies and I thought “of course,”. How poetic and creative and just like the Divine to reinforce “love thy neighbor (no matter what race or species)” into the very fabric of this world. What a beautiful representation of love, trees are.)
And then I started vermicomposting and learned that red wiggler worms can eat their weight in food scraps each day. That through wormy bowel movements they turn those scraps into nutrient rich compost that we can then use as organic fertilizer. So it seems this world is naturally wired to take care of itself in some ways. There are simple solutions to our food waste problems in respect to pollution, and they are already built into the natural cycle of our world. But, I digress…
Little wonders are captivating enough that they almost read like a science fiction drama when we stop and consider them long enough. Everything, and everyone is our teacher because everything has a purpose. (Even the darkest, most horrific events yield opportunities for redemption and purpose, eventually.) And earnest curiosity about that purpose is an easy gateway to little wonder. i.e it requires almost zero effort to ask “why?”. Toddlers do it all the time. Why does that animal behave/look/smell that way? Why did the director choose to use that camera angle? Who was Moses? What does this do? How was it made? …We should keep asking “why” until we strike whatever ‘little’ wonder evokes us into praying the honoring prayer of all wonder…. “wow!”
Little wonders keep us curious, and they deepen our senses and appreciation for this rich, magnificent world. But we need the effects of big wonder too. So if little wonders are small in scale, big wonders then, are: skyscrapers en masse, Celine Dion in concert, the pyramids, space exploration, the internet, Cirque de Solei, and the fact that airplanes are a safe and reliable means of transportation.
Mountains are my big wonder of choice right now. They make me feel small in a beautiful and humble way. On one of our last backpacking trips, my heart was pounding so hard from the intense uphill climb that I actually thought I might die. In my attempt to remain calm and alive, I stopped to rest and leaned over my trekking poles for support. I stood there hunched over my poles for a minute or two, breathing heavily, blinking sweat out of my eyes, and trying to divert my attention away from my pounding heart by staring at the rocks and dirt beneath me. When I finally lifted my gaze, and managed to stand upright, I was reminded of where I was; standing on the edge of a massive mountain that overlooked more gorgeous mountains, all peppered in vibrant fall colors and surrounded by a grey-blue sky. The whole showy scene was too stunning for it’s own good.
As I stood there heaving for air, staring at the massive mountain range in front of me, I had two thoughts. The first was, “I’m okay with dying here. There are much worse places to die.” The second thought was “It’s all going to be okay.” My heart was still pounding, but the vastness of my surroundings put my entire life into perspective. There was this powerful, comforting realization that if I died there, on that mountainside, the world would move on as it has for centuries. Sometimes that thought can be cruel. Often times after personal tragedy, we want the world to stop when ours does, and it hurts that it doesn’t. But in that moment, as I dramatically believed to be taking my last breath, the thought of the world moving on regardless of my existence, came with all the lightness of a feather; so freeing, and humbling.
We humans live in our heads, in our own worlds 24-7. But our parents are right, the world does not revolve around us. It never has, it never will, and what a gift that is.
Big wonders ground us, they take us out of our heads and gently put our Monday blues into perspective. And when we step back to witness the spectacle of it all, we take deeper breaths, we slow down, and work through the little things more quickly. We release the tension in our shoulders, our jaw, fists, our gut and let it all go, even just momentarily. We need that.
This past fourth of July Clay and I watched the fireworks from the rooftop lounge of our apartment. I feel bad because I was vocally grumpy about having to be there. The rooftop was crowded, someone had set up their personal DJ equipment so it was loud, and I’m just not really a fireworks person to begin with. I wouldn’t say I hate them, but if it’s between a fireworks show and a Friends rerun, I’d choose smelly cat 10/10 times. I’m of the mindset that if you’ve seen one fireworks show, you’ve seen them all (yes, even the over the top ones at Disneyworld). My husband, on the other hand, loves fireworks. They are a big, fun wonder for him.
Which is why I eventually I told myself to buck up and enjoy the show for my husband’s sake. I Oohhhed and Ahhhed with everyone else. I pointed out my favorites–– the simple ones that spill out like willow trees and sparkle as they burn out. Then the much anticipated ‘grand finale’ ended and we all went back down to our apartments.
Apologies for that anecdotal yawn, but it brings me to my next two points.
First…every good and noble thing is a wonder. Natural wonders speak loudly to me, but there are so many niches that appeal to each of us uniquely: fireworks, wild flowers, acoustic guitars, sashimi, the NBA, babies, spanish tempranillos, your cat, etc. We could pull back the curtain on any of these and find the “plants make their own food” wonder for each one. You see? Every inch of this world is rich and fascinating. We should be Oohing and Ahhing more often. Hearts should be cartwheeling left and right.
Which brings me to my second point: so many of us have no excuse not to pay attention to the wonders that are exploding and showing off right in front of us. So many of us aren’t grieving, or trying to keep our head above water, or fighting for our lives in a literal or metaphorical sense…and yet, most of us are still walking around with wonder anemia. I can’t help but feel like we’re all under nourished when it comes to awe, pleasure, and joy.
When was the last time you looked at a leaf up close? Or observed a flower long enough to notice the insect roaming its petals? When was the last time your heart did a cartwheel? …the last time you were delighted, or amazed, or tasted something delicious?
Regardless of how quickly you landed on honest answers to those questions, we need to lean into these life-giving wonders and passions more often. We need to identify every noble thing that lights us up and then find a way to prioritize the heck out of them. Otherwise, we risk becoming a shell-with-a-pulse with no reasonable excuse to be living that way other than letting our lives get lost in the weekday shuffle. If that’s you, can I plead with you? None of us are meant to live that way forever.
Put in poem-speak, Mary Oliver writes:
“Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?
While the soul, after all, is only a window,
and the opening of the window no more difficult
than the wakening from a little sleep”
Amen to that first line.
“Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”
Dang. Mary Oliver really knows how to deliver a poetic punch to the gut doesn’t she? It’s a good thing too, because I was going to end with something cheesy like “we need to thrive, not survive” but thank God I turned to a professional.
I hear ya’ loud and clear, Mary.
I’m awake now …again.