“What happens to the hopes and dreams and wonder with which every child is born?” (Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick).
IT’S QUITE NATURAL FOR CHILDREN TO HAVE A SENSE OF WONDER. They’re easily impressed and delighted, and they find great joy in being amazed. Yet, as Fitzpatrick suggests, the wonder tends to fade as children grow older. There are many reasons for this, I suppose. The older we are, the more we’ve seen and the more it takes to impress us. The ease with which we can communicate and travel today means that we’re presented with such an intricate variety of wonders, we grow accustomed to even the most amazing things. And to top it off, we’re so busy that we don’t have time to be filled with wonder. We encounter some truly wondrous things, but we hurry past them so quickly that they don’t have a chance to work their magic on us.
Yet it’s still true that we live in a “wonderful” world: it is filled with wonders beyond count. Many of the most wonderful things we come in contact with should still be delightful to us even though we’ve seen them before. And we need to help our children retain their sense of awe in the presence of these phenomena: sunrises and sunsets, full moons, mountains, oceans — and yes, even skyscrapers and theme parks! It’s a true tragedy not to wonder at what’s wonderful.
Yet we can’t become mere thrill seekers, always looking for some new thing out there that’s more amazing than the last thing we saw. Wonder is essentially an internal characteristic. “We carry with us the wonders we seek without us” (Sir Thomas Browne).
Yet there are external things that can help, and good art is one of them. Whether it’s visual, musical, literary, or performance art, art can awe us. Joseph Conrad, the novelist, made this observation: “The artist appeals to that part of our being which is not dependent on wisdom; to that in us which is a gift and not an acquisition — and, therefore, more permanently enduring. He speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives: to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain.” So find yourself a Beethoven, a Tolkien, or a Michelangelo and let them stir up your astonishment!
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.
(Edgar Allan Poe)