I look at those two words and I’m amazed by the endless possibilities they contain.
Wonder. Breathed into the essence of every human being, wonder kindles the imagination. There is a freedom in wonder that draws each of us out of ourselves if we let it. Bursting with potential, it sets us on a path leading to new discoveries and experiences.
Wonder is the natural companion of children, providing them with endless fascination of all things. They look with wonder at everything, from iridescent soap bubbles to ants on the sidewalk. They wonder what everything tastes like, voluntarily putting any and all interesting objects into their mouths, with the possible exception of vegetables.
As we grow older, wonder at the “ordinary” things of life alters our perceptions, ultimately shaping who we are. Sometimes this change is so gradual it escapes our notice. We wonder why we feel this way, or why we reacted that way. We wonder at the cause of another’s pain, loneliness or sadness. We wonder if we can help them. Each time we experience and act on this wonder, our world expands.
Sometimes wonder’s effect on us is cataclysmic. A newborn baby grasping our finger can arouse overwhelming wonder at this tiny new creation. Wonder can strike in a flash, revealed in the uniqueness of another person. We can experience this same wonder when similarities connect us.
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but wonder is the muse of the creative. Plato wondered about the truth of the world we experience with our senses. Albert Einstein wondered about time and space: what would happen to a beam of light descending from a ship’s mast or a man’s speed as he fell through the air. Shakespeare, wondering about the complexities of the human condition, wrote brilliant plays and poems. Johann Sebastian Bach wondered about creating beautiful harmonies by combining intricate, independent rhythms and voices. Leonardo DaVinci’s wonder about everything produced spectacular and diverse results, from the Mona Lisa to the hang glider.
There is an unsavory underbelly to the freedom of wondering, that also bears reflection. Wondering what it feels like to get high (just this once), can lead to addiction. It can be toxic to wonder too often about things that tempt us: “I wonder what it would be like to be married to somebody else.” Or to wonder about things we can’t have: “I wonder what it would be like to have her life. She has it all.” Wondering how far we need to go in the quest for popularity can permanently stain a life. Sometimes we’re so busy wondering how we ended up so far from where we wanted to be, we lose sight of those small, beautiful things that should fill us with a new wonder.
Wonder ending at itself, wonder that doesn’t inspire exploration or a search for answers becomes a tragedy. Ignore, disregard, neglect and expect–negative, pessimistic words–are the opposites of wonder.
We’ve all asked the burning questions: I wonder why I’m here and what is my purpose. I wonder if there is more around me than I can sense. I wonder if there is anything after death.
The tragedy is not that we’ve found answers we didn’t like or expect. The tragedy is not that we may all disagree on the answers to those questions. The ultimate tragedy lies in reaching the end of life, without having explored the possibilities inherent in those questions, because we were too afraid or too lazy to wonder.
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.” -Albert Einstein.