Awe and Wonder: Edges of Experience

I love to spend pre-dawn minutes sitting outside, watching the daylight grow–especially in springtime when the birds are beginning their mating activities with the wildest of songs and calls.  Flowers are blooming.  Deciduous trees are swelling with green buds that will soon cover them in large canopies of leaves.  The air, while still cool, is warmer than winter, and all of these sights, sounds and smells make life feel hopeful.  The life cycle will begin again.

Having a little time in the early morning to take in springtime is beautiful and reassuring, but I don’t know that it classifies for me as awesome or as wonder.

When I scan my own memory for moments when I think I experienced awe and wonder, I keep returning to one kind of moment with several examples.

For me, these are moments when I suddenly (suddenness is important) face a new experience that is not completely like any other that I have had, and that experience opens me up–even if it also may frighten me.  I have to notice that fear is sometimes in the mix of things I feel when I am in awe.

I remember the first time a child of mine was placed in my arms–for the first time.  And the second time for the fist time.  And the third time for the first time. You’d think that after the first time with the first child, it wouldn’t be so amazing, but it was for me.  I knew how the little bundle would feel.  What I was not prepared for was how obviously different and unique THIS child would be.  We had three, and they were all different, and they each presented something to me even in those first few minutes that announced a new and unique being to me.  That blew me away, and in the next moment sort of terrified me: I am now responsible to this new being in my life.  I’ve been working on that now for nearly three decades.

The other experiences that come to my mind are the same while different.  First moments when I become aware that a loved one has died.  First moments when I approach a landscape the likes of which I have never seen before (The Cliffs of Moher in Ireland areCliffs of Moher my most recent experience.)  All of these take me to the edges of experience that I have not ever had. Newborns plunge us into life experiences, ready or not (usually, not). The death of a beloved rattles my sense of what I think is real.  He or she was just here.  I just talked to them. I expect them to be here.  And they are not. A dramatic landscape reminds us that there is so much to this planet of which we are ignorant and that it holds a memory much more ancient than us.

These moments of awe and wonder each change me, and I have to acknowledge, make my moments on the porch, watching daylight and listening to birds precious.

Bob Patrick

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