Copyright © 1999 Henrietta W. Hay
A Sense of Wonder
February 12, 1999
I was having coffee in my favorite coffee shop the other day and doing a
bit of people watching while I drank my latte. At one table there was a
beautiful young woman drinking her coffee and reading the morning paper,
but one eye and half her attention were on the baby car seat at her
feet. A very small human person was sleeping peacefully under the
watchful eye of her mother.
At another table was a friend of mine whose father had just died at the
age of 91.
I kept wondering: how do you get from here to there, or perhaps I
should say from there to here, from infancy to 91? I am old enough by
now that I should have figured it out, but I still don't know the answer
- beyond living it just one day at a time. It's a long journey and a
very exciting one
A friend of mine who is going through a bad stretch in her life
commented that each of us carries around with us a bag of stuff - our
reactions to everything that has happened to us from birth. And since
each bag is filled with different stuff, it is a miracle that we learn
to communicate with each other at all. The trick is to know which
stuff to keep and which to toss out.
The baby has no idea what is ahead for her, and I'm sure the old man had
forgotten whole big chunks of his past. To try even to imagine the
differences between the world he was born into and the world that will
exist when she is 91 is beyond me. He had some good times and some bad
times, and so will she, but one thing we all have is a sense of wonder.
I do believe that the sense of awe and wonder is a luxury indulged in
chiefly by children and old people. In the in-between years most of us
are too busy surviving and procreating to have time to wonder. One of
the best things about being a Little Old Lady is finding that the sense
of wonder was not lost at all. It just got pushed aside for a bit. Now
I have time to reflect and wonder at what is really going on around me.
Now I can look at a baby with the same awe with which I greeted my own
babies, but without the overpowering sense of responsibility. So I can
just look and wonder how the tiny creature can be so beautiful, why its
fuzzy hair is gold instead of black, why it's nose is so tiny, what it
will look like when it is six feet tall. I wonder how it grows,
molecule by molecule, cell by cell or all at once. Science can tell me,
but I'd rather wonder.
Last week one day as I was driving out of my driveway, three deer
ambled onto the road and stopped and looked at me with those big, soft
eyes. I stopped and we looked at each other. They seemed completely
at ease, merely saying to me, "What are you doing here?" They were
right, of course. They were here first. I wonder how they manage to
survive so close to Horizon Drive, in the midst of people and traffic
The physical world we live in is a never ending wonder. Why are the
mountains so high? Why is the sky blue instead of red or green? Are
the beautiful, feathery clouds at dawn really just water and smog and
sunlight or something more magical? I wonder.
The old man's bag was full and I hope with a lot of good stuff. The
baby's bag is still pretty nearly empty. If I could tell her a little
bit about what is coming, she wouldn't believe me. But I would tell her
to keep her eyes and ears and her mind open all through her life. I
would tell her to laugh and dance and be happy, to believe in herself
and to love.
I would tell her what Rachel Carson wrote many years ago, "If I had
influence with the good fairy ... 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."
Whatever else the our bags contains, the sense of wonder will help us
get from there to here.