Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wonder Talk

Photo by Megan Black

We meet for chapel every Monday at the Grosse Pointe Academy and faculty take turns giving the talk. The following post was the talk I gave on April 13, 2015.

I would like to share with you two stories, three wishes, and an important secret.

  I have always been a wonderer. I wonder about stuff. Constantly. Curiosity led me into many embarrassing predicaments. For example, when I was little I wondered if mothers to be got that way because they swallowed a watermelon seed. I wondered what would happen if I tried it. I knew seeds needed dirt so I ate some of that too. Then I sat in a sunny spot until I threw up. But this didn’t stop me from wondering if I could make my own gum. That brought the fire department to my house which is a longer story for a different day. I wondered what was in the glove compartment of people’s cars parked on our street. I was driven to examine the items the doctor’s cabinets and try to figure out what they did. Let’s face it, who doesn’t wonder about that?! I became obsessed with the idea that there were hidden rooms in every house and wondered what I needed to do to reveal them. Twist a knob on a mantlepiece, play a few notes on their piano, pull out just the right book from a shelf, and I was hopeful the floor would open up to a descending staircase leading to a chamber filled with magical samurai swords and dusty potions. I admit that I was influenced by the story of Anne Frank, my favorite book, The Secret Garden, and a fair share of Scoby Doo cartoons. Even though my nosey-ness often led to trouble, and I was almost always caught in the act, I never stopped wondering. I wonder about the word wonder. It can be a synonym for questioning or curiosity but also for awe, astonishment, luminous enchantment, and speechless reverence.

Recently scientists have studied the phenomenon of wonder, the speechless reverence awesome kind, the moments when we are stunned by the elegance of something in nature or life that humbles us and makes us realize that we are part of something grander than we ever imagined. What the scientists have discovered is that these moments change our lives in profound ways. The more often we experience astonishment, the less likely we are to suffer disease, the greater our personal happiness, and the more likely we are to want to contribute to the betterment of the world.

Rachel Carson wrote, “If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life.” I wish this gift for each of you. That’s my first wish. 

The first time I truly recall feeling a sense of wonder or awe was when I drove across the country by myself to start a new life in Los Angeles. I had everything I owned in a cruddy little hatchback and I was driving to the second largest city in the US where I didn’t know a soul. I had no job or place to live. It was risky but also thrilling. When I got to Arizona I came down with a terrible cold and the reality that I was headed into a very uncertain future alone began to take hold. Nevertheless, I decided to drive the two hours out of my way to see the Grand Canyon. I got there late in the afternoon. When you drive in the park you don’t see the Canyon. You have to walk to the edge. I will never forget it. As I got closer and the sublime immensity of what I was looking at opened up, my legs gave out. I fell to my knees. And I stayed that way for what seemed like hours because time stopped. My life was different after that. I can’t tell you about it in words really but Annie Dillard wrote, “We wake, if ever at all, to mystery.” And that moment and others I’ve been lucky enough to experience, mostly in nature, have felt like waking a good way, not like with the alarm clock, but after a long, delicious sleep. So, that was the second story. And my second wish is that life presents you with mysteries that bring you to your knees. Many of them.

Socrates tell us that wonder is the beginning of wisdom. 

Einstein said, The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.” 

Rilke wrote, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” And, that is my third wish, that you learn to love and live the questions and when you find an answer, realize that this is not the end of mystery. Mystery is infinite.

I believe wonder and awe are a form of prayer. Wonder lets us see with new eyes. It

connects us to the consciousness of the cosmos. Which leads me to the all important secret….Are you ready? You are the greatest wonder of the universe. Yes, you, human, sitting here in this particular body, with this unique mind and heart, in this moment in history are the greatest wonder of all the galaxies because you get to behold it all. There never was and there never will be another you who notices and feels and appreciates and hopefully loves the other wonders in quite the same way. So, open up and let it all in! Even the stuff that hurts or confuses you. Live the questions! Love the Mysteries! Or, as Dr. Suess says, “Think and wonder. Wonder and think.”

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