Years ago, my sister gave me a leather bookmark with this quote on it. It’s one of the few things I’ve never lost over the years, not because of any special care on my part but because, I’ve decided, this bookmark was meant to be with me always. Through move after move and mess after mess, the little brown scrap always stayed true, disappearing for weeks and months at a time only to pop up unexpectedly as I unpacked another box of books in another strange apartment. And every time I felt its pliable softness against my tired and grubby fingers, I smiled. Partly because it reminds me of my younger days (you know what a sentimental slob I am), but mostly because the statement is so true. With our last move, I finally gave it the coveted kitchen-bulletin-board real estate it deserves. See, it hangs just above our City of Kennewick Waste Management Coupons (i.e., dump passes), which are basically the most important documents in our home. That’s some serious bookmark love.
Wisdom begins in wonder. If I had a life motto, I hope this would be it. Because it explains how we won’t understand anything–won’t want to understand anything–until we humble ourselves before the miracle of that thing. Information and art, people and places, the material and the abstract–all are gifts; questions that offer us the thrill of discovery in answering them. How would we experience our world without a sense of wonder? I think we’d worry only about what we can see, and grasp, and possess. I think we’d try to understand only the things that are easy to understand; I think we’d stop trying when the understanding required too much of us. Instead of looking beyond, I think we’d settle for looking around. And instead of looking within, we’d seek affirmation without. Losing our sense of wonder would mean valuing things only for what they mean to us–can do for us–in the here and now. No seeking the possibility, no faith in the potential. Without a sense of wonder, we’d put stock in Many Things with little regard for Everything.
Some days, I’m guilty of all of the above. Some days, I burn through the clock irritated and insecure, egotistical and envious, petty and prideful. On those days I learn nothing, because I’m too busy competing, comparing, looking around, to stop and look beyond–beyond the dumpster passes and up to Mr. Socrates. But if I can do that–if I can set my sights just a little bit higher–then next I can look past my dirty kitchen and unfinished garage, past my lengthening to-do-list and my post-forty figure, past my sorry old self and my sorry lot in life, past the dripping sink and the messy table and the dusty blinds and the dustier windowsills and the clouded glass and then, then, I can see out, out into the white winter day that came with our first snowstorm of the year. Then, I can see the wonder in this:
and this and this and this
and of course, this.
And with such wonders all around me, I’ll recall what another smart guy (named Albert something-or-other) once said: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” And I’ll understand that I have a choice to make. And when I see things like this
I’ll choose everything.