I smiled – with Missy, “Daddy” is more of a job description than a title – and came over to the table. She stabbed her finger eagerly at the coffee table book, before turning more pages, and then more.
From the pages leaped star fields, the points of brilliance crowding the page like sand on a beach. And then nebulae … and galaxies …. and planets. Some of the beauty was practically next door; far more of it was farther away than could be traveled in a hundred lifetimes.
But all of it, every last photo in the book from the Hubble Space Telescope, had captured Missy’s eyes and imagination. Our disabled ward is often a woman of few words, but she didn’t need them this time. Her face said everything that needed saying.
She had been ambushed by wonder.
I’ve been there. I think we all have. It might be while watching the Northern California ocean at night, or seeing a blanket of stars above the Rockies, or an unexpected strain of music that lifts you beyond every cloud. It might be something quiet, even ordinary to the outside world … but not to you. Never to you.
Those may be the moments when I unmistakably feel the strength of hope.
Consider. Except for a few primal things, like loud noises, most fears have to be learned. It’s why the toddler years can be so unnerving for any adults nearby, as the little ones reach out to explore a world with no awareness of routine dangers – the electric socket, the heavy book on the end table, the doggie that might not like having his fur pulled.
Some of the fears and cautions we learn are of that sort, the awareness that keeps our impulses from leading us into harm’s way. But we teach others that are less beneficial – suspicions, prejudices, hatreds that inflict pain rather than avoiding it. Almost 70 years ago, South Pacific sang out the truths we’re still dealing with now:
You’ve got to be taught, before it’s too late,
Before you are six, or seven, or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
And then, there’s wonder.
It’s not something that’s taught, though a good teacher can lead one to it, and help shape it when it comes to light. You find wonder. You discover it. You come upon it and claim it as a gift.
At its most basic, wonder reminds us that we’re connected to something larger than our everyday view of the world. It takes off the blinkers, gives us perspective. At its most powerful, it can be a fuel for dreams and thus for reaching out, because few dreams of any size can be carried out by one person acting alone.
It’s not taught … but it can be sought. And in a world where fears try to crowd out hopes like weeds in a garden, it needs to be.
We build our walls high. So we need to be ready to climb. Wonder can come anywhere, but we help it most when we test our own limits – when we’re ready to risk a new experience, meet a new person, take our mind somewhere it hasn’t been before. Whether it’s the limitless reaches of space or the garden plot you’ve always meant to try out, all of it can serve as a step to something greater.
The clouds above are thick. But if we keep walking, we can find the stars.
Some of them are shining in Missy’s eyes right now.