Wonder

If you have ever read a travel guide on Italy, you can’t help but question the description of the coliseum that lies in the heart of ancient Rome. For grins, we all know that the coliseum really is ancient Rome. At least that is what we think of but when you read the description in the guide you get the feeling that the place is a dilapidated old eye sore. The books describe the aftermath of pollution, the fleecing of marble, and the neglect of the grounds that hinder the possibilities of what the civilization achieved (1).

I could probably write that I agree with guides. But someone who writes a guide has been to Rome forty times over. You have to be. Who would want to buy a guide from a relative newbie that has been to the Eternal City only a handful of times? If you would, wait until you see the winding streets that were carved out of hillsides and built to prevent invasion. You want to buy the guide from the expert; someone who has lived in Rome and felt the pulse of its locale for years. You want someone who knows that American coffee is truly limited in nature (2). You want someone who knows which side-walk café is the best to sit down for an hour or two or three in front of the Pantheon for a nice carafe of wine.

But what the expert loses is the sense of wonder. The first time you get out of the cab, pay your euro, and then pass through the rite of passage of the gladiators who grab your camera, declare your wife as Cleopatra incarnate (which I believe to be true), and shove tin helmets on your head. The crew then runs through a routine that would put the best sidewalk performer to shame where they ask if you want a Roman divorce while flashing their swords in a flourish and then proceed to charge you thirty euros for the two pictures that were taken on your own digital camera. This is a great gig if you can get it and I was furious for all but five minutes. This business model would work in few places, but that’s why it’s about location, location, location…

The Colosseum

That’s when my eyes found the coliseum for the first time. And I could see Rome. I could see the marble and the splendor. I had left the tin paper gladiators behind and could only marvel at the wonder that was Rome. This is what the guidebooks don’t have a feel for any longer. They can’t see the achievement for the first time (3). And after this moment I began to feel the city. I can still remember it, and I wonder if the States can ever compare with this history. The largest superpower in the world just does not have the resume of an ancient Rome, or Greece, or China (4).

The closest that America can point to is Washington DC and the monuments are a site to behold, especially at night when you stare upon Lincoln’s sad eyes. You can feel the weight of a country in that stare. And then you walk along to the Vietnam Memorial and you cannot help but feel the weight of a nation. I remember walking around the square at night years ago and a lady asked me to help her chalk a name. I looked on her old plaid coat and cane by her side, bit my inside lip, and began to scratch out a name. When she said a simple thanks and mentioned that it was her son, I forced a smile, handed her the slick piece of paper, and bowed out quietly. To this day, I’m glad I did not glance at the name, which I’m thankful for, but when you look across that square you cannot help but feel wonder. Yes, wonder is about more than awe it also has a bit of shudder mixed in to keep you on your toes.

A Perfect Morning Run

But if you take away monument square, America has few colossal structures and architectural achievements that have the history to stand next to the world’s best. I always felt that the country was more of a natural wonder with the Grand Canyon, the Black Hills, the PCH, and the Shenandoah Valley. And when you see these places for the first time you cannot help but stand and reflect or remark in silent appreciation. It’s that wonder effect again.

Wonder is grand. And if only the world could steal a bit of it each and every day; often it’s just not necessary to travel the world to find that special moment. If that’s watching a colleague at work mutter something inconsequential to a boss, a team finally pulling together the final touches on an important project, or watching someone stick to their moral code in the face of immense pressure, that’s perfectly fine. We can each find a little something at work that makes the next day all the more manageable. Or, perhaps we find something in our work that makes us move at such a frantic pace. I often wonder how the creator of CROCS can have such a passion for footwear (5).

But to that man these uncomfortable pieces of plastic are a love, a wonder built from the ground up from an idea out of the depths of a mind. Ideas are powerful forces and seeing something like that come into being, something you created, can be powerful. Even if they are the ugliest shoes ever to be worn by a mass of people.

Kids can be lemmings. And kids are an embodiment of wonder. Watching a little one find an imaginary friend for the first time, feeding and giving it drinks while showing off his best slurping sounds is a sight. Kids find a little wonder in the world each and every day. Often, they find it in each and every waking moment. A little one grinning ear to ear while stuffing mashed potatoes inside the mouth fast and furiously while spitting them out in the next second is a site to behold. Even the simplest of moments can create a deep passion; an almost immense sense of satisfaction that makes you stop and think it’s great to be alive:

  • Watching a toddler roll over for the first time, seeing the struggle and then finally seeing the moment take place.
  • A kid playing his first game of catch (6).
  • Hearing your name for the first time. There is nothing like the sound of a giggling mommy and daddy.
  • Laughing in elation as you see your child take those first steps. And then cringing in fear as you realize they’re now mobile.
  • A little one singing itsy bitsy spider and making the actions the entire way.
  • The feeling you get when you leave your child with a sitter, parent, etc., for the first time. And then the feeling you get when you see that everything was just fine when you get back home (7).
  • Watching a group of little boys splash around in a fountain.
  • Meeting Mickey Mouse for the first time despite it costing you your second child’s education.

The world needs wonder. But the thing is that the world has wonder. It’s a matter of finding it in each task, in each meeting, and in each discussion. It’s about paying attention and seeing. Your mind needs wonder; otherwise, why show up for work every day? What’s the point of the daily grind? And throwing out an economist’s term for grins you could just find your self in a state of stagflation (8).

I miss being a kid. There is nothing like the feeling that you are invincible. Sure, kids seem needy at times depending on the age. But they can wake up each morning knowing they are going to see or learn something new. It’s this age of discovery that sometimes goes missing in the everyday life of responsibility that often includes rolling out of bed, running off to work, finalizing those TPS reports, making the long drive home, pulling together dinner, and eventually lying in bed at the brink of exhaustion.

It’s the wear and tear that can get you in the end. But if we look for that little something, perhaps each day becomes more bearable. Until we build up a force that eventually becomes unstoppable. Sure, that’s the eternal optimist in us all. But wouldn’t it be great to look through a kid’s bright blue eyes for only a moment? You could almost live forever if you could only find out how to do it in each and every wonder filled moment. And if you can’t find the fountain of youth you would give almost anything to live for just a few more seconds. If only to feel again. To be a kid.

Footnotes:


1 Pulling away tons of marble that eventually found its way to the wonder of the Vatican is one of the world’s greatest reconstruction projects and is an idea that illustrates the transfer of paganism to Catholicism. The large cross that stands in the center of the coliseum only puts the trump card down as the place was converted into a church for a time during its history.

2 And yes Starbucks falls into that class. If you want to know who put coffee (or rather cappuccino) on the map, look no farther than the Italians. You can go to any other country in the world and find a Starbucks but in Rome the stores would be run out of business within a week.

3 There is just something about the first time. Yeah, that is bad humor or is it a White Snake song?

4 The Great Wall will give you the same feeling. It will make you giddy and then you say, “I’m standing on the Great Wall of China.” And you laugh, knowing that it’s true as you drudge up and down mile after mile of stone.

5 I tried these shoes on and I can tell you that comfortable did not come to mind. They made me think that having a board tied to me feet with shoestrings would be as comfortable somehow. Maybe, they would work on a boat but wearing them around each and every day would be a stretch.

6 Especially, if you’re a baseball fan and the moment takes place in the spring… And you dream of your child being six feet in height and left-handed to boot. If only for an instance, and then you realize that you just want your little one to always be your little one.

7 I remember leaving my child with a sitter on reference for the first time. It was a long two hours as I started to see images of an elderly woman throwing off her wig, jumping on a train to Timbuktu, and counting her money as she dealt my child away through an intermediary traveling band of gypsies. Yeah, the little one was fine but it was a long two hours.

8 Now, that may be a profound thought.