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“Suddenly I feel myself transformed and changed; it is joy unspeakable. My mind is exhilarated; I lose the memory of past trials; my intelligence is clarified; my desires are satisfied. I grasp something inwardly as with the embracement of love” (Hugh of St. Victor).
NOW AND THEN WE EXPERIENCE AN EXCITEMENT SO INTENSE THAT WE CALL IT “EXHILARATION.” It may not happen often (and it might not be good if it did), but occasionally we are so alive and engaged in the moment that the event remains stamped in our memory forever. These are the mountaintop experiences in our lives, those times when our senses and our sensibilities seem to have been electrified. It’s good that we’re able to experience such moments. The ability to be exhilarated is a thing to be thankful for.
Unfortunately, we tend to fall asleep as we get older, and in that state we fail to be exhilarated by things that should touch us deeply. We let our minds and hearts be dulled by the duties of daily living. We lose our openness to the wonder of the world. And consequently, we forget what it’s like to tingle with childlike amazement.
This does not have to happen, however, and we do ourselves a favor when we make sure that it doesn’t. But not only that, we do others a favor as well. We all know how enjoyable it is to live and work around individuals whose senses are alive and whose minds are awake; we can be individuals like that if we determine to do so.
Of course, there are some moments so exciting that they would stir anyone up, even the most jaded. Dangerous moments, for example, are thrilling. (Winston Churchill once commented that “nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.”) Life doesn’t deliver such extraordinary exhilaration very often, and there is more to life than the mere seeking of thrills. But when these rare moments come along, they do have the healthy effect of waking us up.
It’s a mistake, however, to think that exhilaration can only be experienced on the mountaintop. In truth, much of what is commonplace can be intensely pleasurable — and the good life will elude us if we can’t taste the tang and the tartness of what is right before us.
“Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).