Monday, December 19, 2022
I’ve been discombobulated lately. (Now, there’s a word you don’t often come across.)
First, we had a three-day internet outage from a broken ethernet cable. Its tiny internal wires rusted through after exposure to the elements by squirrels who chewed up the wire’s outer insulation. Emails backed up and scheduled online events had to be cancelled or postponed until further notice. I’m still trying to re-schedule with about half a dozen people. A tough way to run a business.
That same week, my husband lost two family members within five days of each other: his oldest sister, twenty years his elder, and a sister-in-law, second wife to one of his deceased brothers. So, a week and a half ago we attended two funerals in three days. It was great to see family members we haven’t seen since 2019 (before the world was put on hold), but that’s surely not an ideal reason. The blessings are the memories that we carry of these two relatives. Nobody and nothing can take that away.
So, I’ve been playing catch-up in my mind. The grieving isn’t heart-rending (both ladies were 86 years old, so it wasn’t sudden). But still, this sort of thing takes up space in one’s mind, occupying deeper, more obscure crevices that we rarely realize we have.
It takes time to mend broken connections. Events like this make us all the more aware of our own tenuous hold on life. Let’s celebrate what we have, for that’s of far greater value than what we don’t have.
Sally M. Chetwynd
To Tease Your Mind
If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder,
he needs the companionship of
at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy,
excitement, and mystery of the world we live in …
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.”
Rachel Carson (1907-1964)
writer, scientist, and ecologist
employed in the 1930s as Editor-in-Chief of the US Fish & Wildlife Service
author of “Under the Sea-Wind,” “The Sea Around Us,”
“The Edge of the Sea,” “Silent Spring,” and “The Sense of Wonder.”
(“Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson,”
a collection of her writings discovered after her death,
was published posthumously)
A Sense of Wonder
That child-like sense of wonder – where has it gone?
We’re all born with it. Many of us adults have lost it. Or we ignore it. Our culture and society strive to squash it from us. Or we think it’s something we must outgrow. That’s confusing “child-like” with “childish.”
My mother never lost hers. In her 90s, she cherished the time spent playing with her little great-grandchildren, for she saw the world again through their eyes, through their sense of wonder.
My interest in the natural world grew throughout my youth. In my mid-teens, I received a copy of Rachel Carson’s book, “The Sense of Wonder.” I don’t know where it ended up (perhaps at my college, to which alumni sent the bulk of their personal book collections shortly after the school’s library burned in 1983), but I remember it as a beautiful book, full of photographs and illustrations, and of Carson’s text that encouraged that child-like wonder about the grand and the tiny alike in the woods and fields, the sea and sky. She wanted to instill “the simple power of discovery” [from the dust jacket] in her young nephew as they explored rocky sea-coasts, dense forests, and open meadows, observing the seasons of wildlife, plants, and weather. (Carson was influential in launching the ecology movement. Her seminal work was “Silent Spring,” which warned of the growing dangers of ungoverned use of pesticides.)
Phillip’s recently deceased sister-in-law, Joan, possessed a powerful sense of wonder. Joan gloried in children – her own three weren’t enough. In 1974, she established Tall Spire Nursery School in our town. Even today, when I write a check for a local purchase, the clerk often recognizes my last name, beams at me, and says, “I went to Tall Spire!” or “Joan taught my children at Tall Spire!”
Joan with husband Bill, Wakefield’s Fourth of July Parade, 2015
When I worked in Virginia for a civil engineering firm, I made friends with Thanh, a quiet, droll man from South Vietnam who had flown military planes in the war against North Vietnam. He was shot down and spent seven years in a Viet Cong POW camp, an abominable place of torture, filth, and want. He eventually emigrated to Canada and then to Virginia, where he became a computer drafter like me. (Our office was like the United Nations – every project manager’s team of three to eight was peopled with immigrants from all over the world. The team I worked on had a Korean, a Filipino, a Pole, and a Frenchwoman.) Thanh’s wife once told me that when their family got together with friends, Thanh never hobnobbed with the adults – he was always outside playing with the children. Despite (or perhaps a result of) his horrific wartime experience, he never lost his sense of wonder. Or if he had, playing with children enabled him to find it again.
Laughter is another way in which we express our sense of wonder. Ted Cunningham is a stand-up comedian on the Date Night Comedy Tour. (He’s also the lead pastor at a church in Branson, MO, and a motivational speaker.) At a recent performance he said that laughter strengthens us to face life’s stressful situations. You don’t have to be religious or spiritual to benefit from regular engagement in rib-tickling belly laughs, which diffuse physical and mental toxins in your body. “Laughter humanizes me,” Cunningham says. You won’t have a sense of wonder if you aren’t open to all aspects of being a human being, including the joy of laughter.
I have an incurable sense of wonder, like my friend Thanh. A fellow Civil War reenactor reproduced a cast of Civil War-era puppets and presented his Punch-&-Judy style puppet theater at various events. No matter what else was going on, when John put on his show, I was right there, cross-legged on the ground, surrounded by four-year-olds, laughing at the slap-stick and booing and cheering with the best of the pre-schoolers.
(By the way, the link – here – to this photo source goes to an article
in Smithsonian Magazine about the evergreen history of Punch & Judy,
which originated in Italy over 350 years ago.)
What prompted all this noodling about “a sense of wonder?” Pastor Frank on the first Sunday of Advent. He said that most of us have lost our sense of wonder about the Christmas season. It gets buried under the frenzy of the holiday season. We’re swamped by all the commercial glitter and glitz.
Bake pies for the family gathering (eighteen relatives landing at YOUR house this year), make cookies for the kids’ school parties, iron a dress shirt for the company Christmas party, shop for those perfect gifts, help the kids shop and finance most of it, meet year-end deadlines at work that require overtime, make popcorn for the family to munch while binge-watching endless Christmas classics, stand in long lines at the post office to buy more stamps for the Christmas cards, finish sewing that costume for the kid playing Joseph in the church’s Christmas pageant, make a trip with the kids to buy a tree, ferry them first to the school’s Christmas concert rehearsals and then to the concert, half-forget to buy the multitude of stocking stuffers, haul the seasonal decorations from the attic and install them indoors and out, run out of tape in the middle of wrapping, find hiding places away from prying eyes, rush to the store for more boxes of lights for the tree because last year’s won’t light, try to remember those hiding places as midnight on Christmas Eve bears down like a freight train – and let’s not forget the “some assembly required” gifts that keep us up until dawn, farting around with nuts and bolts with mis-matched threads.
Huff huff! Puff puff! Huff huff! Puff puff!
It’s no wonder we lose our sense of wonder over the unadulterated story of a divine baby born in a stable in the Middle East over two thousand years ago. It’s really not so much about what we obligate ourselves to do for each other, but what He did for us. It’s really that simple.
For some time, two separate flooring manufacturers/installers have been advertising their wares with ridiculous ads.
One of them proclaims that your floor is the foundation of your house. (Tell that to the general contractors out there. Do we have to dismantle the whole house to install new floors?)
The other claims that they’ll beat the competition by 15 percent or it’s free. (If they can’t beat the competitors’ prices by 15 percent, how can they afford to do the work for free?)
It makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
Do you have comments or questions about this post?
I’d love to hear them. Let’s talk!
Happy reading! Happy writing!
(Yes, I know, this shows up in the middle of 2023, but I only just discovered that I hadn’t transferred it back in late December when I sent it as a newsletter to my adoring fans.)
Image: chewed wire
Image: Rachel Carson
Image: Bill Chetwynd, Grand Marshal, & wife Joan, Wakefield 4th of July Parade, 2015
Image: Asian man with child
Image: Punch & Judy puppet show
Image: Christmas panic